The solidarity of the fire service community is never as strong as when a “brother” firefighter loses his life in the line of duty.
Fort Drum firefighter Lt. Joel Sova and his wife, Kelly, are good examples of such selfless service, having spent countless hours behind the scenes planning community-based events that benefit the Garrett W. Loomis Firefighters Fund.
Loomis, a career firefighter at Fort Drum and assistant fire chief of Sackets Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, was killed days shy of his 27th birthday while battling a silo fire at a dairy farm in the town of Hounsfield on April 11, 2010.
Sova said a few months after the tragedy he helped organize a run in support of the Loomis fund, which had been created by the fallen firefighter’s parents, Gary and Amy Loomis.
“It started as an impromptu idea, as something to do to get everybody together,” said Sova, who grew up in Sackets Harbor less than a mile down the road from Loomis.
“We wanted to just have fun and enjoy (reflecting) on Garrett’s life,” he added.
The run, now called Run 4 Garrett, attracted more than 100 participants that first year and has since galvanized community support.
Sova said his wife’s organizational skills have helped keep the run going each year.
“I shot the first arrow, and she took off running,” he said.
The 4th annual Run 4 Garrett event (a 5K /10K Run/Walk Race) will take place at 9 a.m. June 1 at the Sackets Harbor American Legion on Ambrose Street. Registration is $35 per person. Race-day registration will begin at 7 a.m. Participants also may enter a “10K Firefighter’s Challenge.”
For more details and application forms, community members may visit http://www.garrettsfund.org
Sova said he hopes to see more than 300 people register this year.
The route winds through the quaint and historic village of Sackets Harbor. Along the way, participants will pass two firefighters standing at attention, quietly guarding the Loomis headstone. A large American flag draped from a Fort Drum hook and ladder truck will await runners at the finish line.
Also at the finish line, a man wishing to show his respect and gratitude will be waiting to greet them, Kelly Sova noted.
“Gary Loomis stands at the finish line every year and waits for every last participant to cross it,” she said.
In addition to the Run 4 Garrett event, the Sovas are busy helping to organize the Garrett W. Loomis Memorial Golf Tournament, which they took over last year from someone who retired and moved out of the area.
Kelly Sova said it’s a lot of work, but that sitting on planning committees with good friends makes it enjoyable.
“It’s really nice,” she said. “We all like to get together anyway. So we make it like a social event.”
Money from the golf event and the run go directly to the Garrett W. Loomis Firefighters Fund, which is administered by the Northern New York Community Foundation.
The fund provides free training in agricultural emergency response and awards a high school senior from Sackets Harbor Central School with a $1,500 scholarship each year to reward civic involvement in the community.
Last year, both events raised more than $12,000.
This year, the golf tournament will take place Aug. 18 at Willowbrook Golf Club in Watertown.
As his volunteerism continues supporting the Garrett W. Loomis Firefighters Fund, Sova’s off-duty work has gained the attention of his supervisor on post.
Capt. Robert Tennies of Fort Drum’s Fire and Emergency Services Division praised Sova for investing countless hours of his time and energy to support the Garrett W. Loomis Firefighters Fund.
“Joel has committed himself to go above and beyond all expectations in supporting the Loomis family with their loss while leading efforts to raise money for the good of training local first responders in scene safety,” Tennies said. “He helps to ensure the memory of Garrett lives on by advancing the success of the firefighting brotherhood through community education and scholarships.
“Joel’s actions represent the best of the best,” he added.
For the Sovas, however, their efforts come naturally, from the heart and for the good of the community.
“My reason for doing this is to just have some fun,” Joel Sova said. “Garrett was a laid-back, humble and goofy kind of a guy. He enjoyed having fun. He could make (light) of any situation.
“We all get together and just really celebrate (his life),” he added.
“It’s a way of making sure that we don’t forget,” Kelly Sova added. “The reason we all get together started because of something bad, but we are turning it into something good.
“We get sad every year,” she explained, “There are certain moments when you stop and (re- member the heartbreak). But in the bigger picture, it’s much more of a celebration.”