The fifth annual get-together is set Saturday when local firefighters take on some of their counterparts from the New York City Fire Department. This event has been growing in participation and popularity since it began. It's all good fun when teams from both departments hit the ice - in this case at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario - to play for charity. This year's event has expanded to include a golf tournament (already sold out) and a hockey doubleheader that day.
The Ontario Fire Department versus the New York City Fire Department game is scheduled for 2p.m. Later in the evening, Ontario's own Reign professional team will play the Las Vegas Wranglers. And in between the games, Ontario firefighters will host a chili cookoff and mini auction.
Tickets start at $13 for both games with $6 from each ticket going to the USO. In order for the event to raise the money for the USO, though, community members must secure their tickets by calling Brad Spetnagel at 909-204-5509 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"This all started years ago with Rich Grimm, who has since retired from our department. I sort of helped him out, and now I guess I'm overseeing it. It's become so big. We have a great time. We fly the guys out from New York. This year we have the golf tournament and then the game. We've asked individuals and local businesses to support us, and everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive and full of heart. We're grateful because we want the event to be very successful. We've helped other charities in the past, but this year we want to show our troops we support them," said Ed Nichols of the Ontario Fire Department.
Nichols and some of his fellow Ontario firefighters play in an Anaheim police and fire league. During the years, they've become friends with firefighters from other departments. The firefighters are quick to support each other and their charity fundraisers.
"It's always fun, but this year we added the golf tournament, and I think everyone is going to have a great time," said Nichols.
Despite uncharacteristically cold temperatures locally lately, Nichols said the New York firefighters are looking forward to traveling to Southern California.
Gail Oyler, USO Ontario Center manager, said the organization is thrilled to have been selected as a beneficiary.
"The USO Ontario is a nonprofit organization that receives no government funding. We are reliant upon the generosity of the community, businesses and fundraisers such as this. Our numbers have increased by 30 percent this past year. In 2012, we served 26,000 troops at our center. Whether it's one service member who is coming in for a permanent change of station and is not aware that their destination is 120 miles away and they won't be reimbursed for a cab if they take one, the USO is there to guide him," Oyler said.
One thing service personnel can count on is the generosity and hospitality found at the USO. Everyone is fed for free, and they are welcome to stay and rest. The center is equipped with computers, video games, televisions and a lot of friendly faces. The largest group the USO Ontario helped at one time stands at 928 who stopped by the facility, which is inside the old terminal at the Los Angeles Ontario Airport.
The USO Ontario is always in need of donations. For more information, call 909-390-4274.