Since 1954, the Hero Thrill Show has been raising money for college scholarships for the children of Philadelphia’s fallen police officers and firefighters. This year, the 58th show, will be held on September 22 from noon to 5 pm at the Wells Fargo Center.
A pep rally and preview of the show was held Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 12 on Market Street, between 18th and 19th Streets, and the entire block was filled with fascinated onlookers. The crowd enjoyed the Highway Patrol Motorcycle Drill Team and the Philadelphia Police Bicycle Stunt Team, who will be among the talent on display at the Hero Thrill Show.
“Most of you expect to go home at the end of your workday,” said attorney Jimmy Binns, Hero Thrill Show Inc. president and CEO to the gathered spectators. “For a police officer or a fire fighter, they don’t know if they’re coming home at the end of the day. But they can rest in the knowledge that their children’s education will be taken care of.”
Binns said that the purpose of the Thrill Show is to raise money for the college education of the children of Philadelphia’s firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty. Binns, who took over the running of the show in 2006, said that since that time, the show continues to put 19 children who have lost a parent through school. Widows Ann Skerski, Judy Cassidy and Michelle Liczbinski were among those who attended the pep rally.
“Their husbands lost their lives, but they rested in the security that we would take care of their children,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.
The Hero Thrill Show Inc. is not affiliated with the Hero Scholarship Fund. For years the two charities both had the same goals, and the show was produced and staged by the Hero Scholarship Fund until it cancelled the show in 2005.
“After carefully comparing revenues of the past several years, including decreases as well as the expenses and difficulty in putting on the show, it has been decided to discontinue the show,” wrote Ruth A. Silwinski, former president of the organization. She clarified her reasons in a second letter.
“The reason for our discontinuance of the show is that it was originally established as a city function and operation,” Silwinski wrote. “Since 1994, we have been forced to operate the show simply because there was no city backing. We cannot continue to lay out money necessary to fund the show each year.”
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson backed a new entity for the purpose of raising money for the survivors of fallen first responders. Binns, who is a longtime supporter of local law enforcement charities and programs, took over operations in 2006. The Hero Scholarship Fund still remains in business,
“He resurrected the show and gave it new life,” said Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby. “In 2005, only about three hundred people attended the show. Last year we had 40,000.”
The Hero Show was established in 1954 after 10 firefighters were killed in an explosion while battling a fire at a chemical plant in North Philadelphia. Since then, more than 800 families have benefitted from the charity’s financial aid. Some of the most recent recipients are Amber Liczbinski, daughter of slain police officer Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, John Cassidy, whose father Police Officer Charles Cassidy was gunned down during the robbery of a Dunkin Donuts in 2007. Robert Skerski is the son of Police Officer Gary Skerski who was killed while attempting to stop the robbery of Pat’s Café in Northeast Philadelphia.
“When I grew up we knew the police officers who patrolled our neighborhood. We spoke to them and interacted with them, and we’ve gotten away from that,” said former basketball player, now WIP AM sports announcer Sonny Hill. “The next time you see a police officer or a firefighter, do me a favor, do yourself a favor and say hello to them. Thank them for all they do for us in helping to keep us safe.”