Firefighters need heroes too: A community challenge

Firefighters need heroes too: A community challenge

“Hey, listen to the law,” shouted a woman sporting a blue police windbreaker. 

“Put him in the boards, Red,” a passionate fan seated along the glass yelled.

“Nice sweatpants, Blue,” a fan dressed in red mockingly said to a player on the ice.

“Someone’s going to need an ice bath tonight,” mumbled a concerned wife seated a couple rows behind me. 

A sea of red and blue floods the bleachers. A divided fan base trades jeers back and forth. Blue represents the Madison City Police Department, and Red is the Madison City Fire Department. 

I was surrounded by fans swaddled in blankets with one hand shakily clutching a beer because it’s never too cold for a beer.  

The spectators were either families of members on the team or community members who wanted to show their support for the teams. And every so often I would feel the gentle kicking of a tiny snow shoe on my back or the dropping crumbs of brown paper-bagged popcorn falling in my lap, hurled in exasperation or celebration from the rows above. 

On this Saturday evening on March 16, mothers had decided to sacrifice their children’s bedtimes in order to come to “Battle of the Badges,” an annual community fundraising event. All proceeds go to the beneficiary, Safe Communities, an organization that helps fight against substance abuse disorders by bridging the gap between resources and support. 

“This is a community challenge, and it takes a community to come together and raise awareness,” said Kristina Vaccaro, a certified peer specialist and the director of peer operations for Safe Communities. 

Every year, a few hundred people attend the event, paying a $5 entry fee, but it wasn’t like this 10 years ago. Steven Chvala, retired Madison police officer, and Scott Beckfield, longtime Madison police officer, helped develop the event in 2015 after the game had been played for the second time. 

Madison Fire Department team lined up on the ice. Photo by Ruby Rothman.

“We realized we could make this into something special, and not just this kind of superfluous thing that didn’t really benefit anything,” Chvala said. 

Chvala was hesitant to play hockey altogether because he went to college for football and cross country and never grew up playing the sport. He is a self proclaimed “adult learner.” Beckfield, on the other hand, recalls skating on the ice-packed roads to the nearby rink in Eau Claire as a kid. Although he took a 20-year hiatus from the sport, he was eager to return to support a good cause. 

The game originated as a filler event for the Madison Capitols in an attempt to boost their attendance. Once Chvala and Beckfield realized the potential of the match, they consulted with the enemy — the firefighters — about how to put on a fundraising event, since they had experience. 

“We started out as this event that nobody knew about and all of the sudden, now everyone knows about it, and it’s actually doing something,” Chvala said. 

As the event grew, so did the historic rivalry between the police and fire departments. In the beginning, the fire department would have to ease off the police department, but Chvala and Beckfield helped inspire a concerted effort among the men in blue to get to a competitive level. 

Because I had met with Chvala and Beckfield prior to the Battle, my loyalties were with the Mad City Police Department. Sitting directly behind their bench, the stench of sweat-soaked gloves wafted and the echo of banging sticks came to a halt for the national anthem. Little did I know this would be a fleeting moment of amicability between the teams. 

From the puck drop through the second period, it was a game determined by penalties,cross-checking, high-sticking, elbowing and more. 

Hockey is a physical sport and it’s not uncommon to see little scraps here and there,” Beckfield said. “The refs did a great job intervening to make sure things didn’t go too far.”

Though it was a friendly-spirited rivalry, boys will be boys, and in the first and second period, sticks were tangled, words were thrown and shoves were exchanged back and forth. 

Madison City Police Department team lined up on the ice. Photo by Ruby Rothman.

“I mean, I always joke, firefighters need heroes, too, and that’s why the police are here,” Chvala said. 

It was a one goal game going into the third and final period. The fire-side came riled up with a vengeance to prove their superiority. And whoever gave the pep talk in their locker room, it worked. 

Within the first minute of play, two quick breakaway goals were scored. After that, the fire team began to pour it on, relentlessly attacking the goal and not allowing the police to score for the entirety of the third period. 

Hopeful police fans quickly vanished into unenthusiastic bowing heads. Eavesdropping on the family seated behind me, I heard a mother whisper, “This is where the pain happens every year.” 

Although the Mad City Police team fell once again to the fire team, 2-9, not a fan left the building without a smile pasted to their face. After all, it was played in the name of fundraising. 

“We would love to win, but at the end of the day, remember why you’re here. It’s all for the cause. It has nothing to do with winning or losing, and it has everything to do with the community,” Chvala said. 

In the eight years that Safe Communities has been the main beneficiary of the event, the community has pulled together to raise more than $140,000. With this money, the organization has allocated funds to provide more than 2,000 hours of recovery services, created peer-led veteran support groups, acquired 18 peer providers and expanded their Pregnancy2Recovery program, all of which go above and beyond their restrictive funding. 

At the end of the day, the fans show up to support their local police and fire departments, and in turn the police and firemen show up to support Safe Communities. This lasting cycle of positivity leaves everyone better off. 

“For my 25 years in this police department, hands down this is the thing I’m most proud of to be a part of,” Beckfield said. 

Madison City Fire Department fan coming to show their support. Photo by Ruby Rothman.

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