The rivalry between firefighters and police officers in Fort Wayne is a friendly one. But it’s definitely a rivalry.
So when the fire department beat the police department 3-1 in a soccer match Sunday afternoon, Detective Fred Ray was dismayed.
“I wish we would have won,” he said, cracking a smile. “I don’t know what happened.”
The competition on the field aside, the players and spectators had come out for the common goal of raising money for two firefighters facing health problems. Nate Mills has a dangerous form of skin cancer, and Bryan Heckman is recovering from heart surgery.
Fire Chief Amy Biggs said Mills was diagnosed with the most progressed stage of melanoma. The cancer is inoperable, but he’s been seeking experimental treatments. After taking some time off, he was able to return to “full active status” as a firefighter, Biggs said.
“It makes him happy that he’s able to do his job,” she said. “That’s all he’s ever wanted to do.”
Firefighter Becky Freds, one of Heckman’s crewmates, brought her two daughters to watch the game. They were rooting for the fire department’s team, but Freds had no grudge against the police officers.
“We make runs with each other all the time, and we see each other, and we help each other out,” she said. “People pull together any time there’s a need.”
Freds said Heckman’s heart problem, a defect from birth, was caught during an annual physical this year. In August, he underwent surgery to have a valve replaced, she said.
“He’s recovering pretty well,” Freds said. “He’s still on full restriction. I don’t even think he can lift a gallon of milk, yet.”
Biggs said both men are 39 years old. Mills has served as a firefighter for six years, and Heckman has done the job for almost 12 years.
“Hopefully, they both make as whole and complete recoveries as necessary,” the chief said.
When The Journal Gazette stopped by the game held at the Fort Wayne Sport Club on Ardmore Avenue, Heckman and Mills were not there. Also absent were many of the officers expected to move the ball for the police department’s team.
Ray, who helped organize the game, said his team was short 10 players because of injuries and SWAT team training. To fill the void, firefighters, family members and ringers were recruited.
Last year, the two departments squared off on the soccer pitch to collect money for the Fallen Hero Fund, a local charity that helps families of injured police officers and firefighters. That game also went to the fire department 3-1, he said.
Some firefighters have said they want to play soccer with the police more often, according to Ray. “But they’re firemen. They have a lot of free time.”