EAST ALTON — The East Alton Ice Arena played host to the inaugural Southern Illinois Guns and Hoses hockey game Saturday to honor and give support to the family of late Medora Fire Chief Kenny Lehr. Lehr lost his life in the line of duty on Feb. 5 while on the scene of an emergency call.
“The hockey team is the Southern Illinois first responders, but they split into two teams to form the Southern Illinois Guns and Hoses to raise funds for families who are outside of the Backstoppers range,” organizer Sara Ulrich said. “This particular event is to benefit the family of Chief Kenny Lehr of the Medora Fire Department. We really wanted to do something for the community. We had a lot of people that enjoyed playing hockey and we saw this tragedy and wanted to make a difference for the family.”
Members from 11 fire departments faced off with officers from six police departments and two members of the Navy. Trading turnout gear and handcuffs for skates, pads and helmets, the men in uniform battled on ice to raise funds for the Lehr family. The firefighters extinguished the police officers’ hopes for bragging rights in the inaugural event with a 6-2 victory in three 13-minute periods.
Police and firefighters work closely together in high-risk and stressful situations in their day-to-day shifts and build a bond few can understand. It doesn’t matter what town each officer or firefighter works for: when one member falls in the line of duty, they all feel the pain.
“The support we’ve received has been overwhelming,” Janelle Lehr said. “This is such an honor. Everyone at the fire department has been outstanding. Not just the Medora department, but all the fire departments in the surrounding area. They’ve been there for us since day one and still are today. I appreciate them and can’t thank them enough for what they and the community have done.”
The firefighters lit up the scoreboard in the first period with a shot from Tim Harmon of the Jerseyville Fire Department with an assist by Larry Ulrich from the Prairietown Fire Department at 8:21 to take a 1-0 lead. The police officers upped their defense, but the firefighters found a hole with 2:58 remaining in the first period when Prairietown’s Kenny Klenke scored an unassisted goal. The firefighters led 2-0 at the end of the first period.
“We all work together so much; this was just a great opportunity for friends to get together, play hockey and raise some funds for a great cause,” said Zach Dellamano of the Alton Police Department. “We put this team together to have some fun; some of us have played hockey for a long time. We got together and talked it over and said while we’re at it, why don’t we use this as a fundraiser to help a good cause. The tragedy in Medora really hits home for all of us, but especially the fire guys. We all work side by side, so we’re glad we can do this together to help the Lehr family.”
The firefighters struck again in the second period with an unassisted goal by Dan Bartels of the Bethalto Fire Department at 9:24 to bring the score to 3-0. The smoke-eaters turned up the heat when Matt Wiwczaroski of the Granite City Fire Department buried the puck at 2:23, assisted by Aaron Cranmer from Godfrey Fire Department to make it 4-0. The Guns battled back with a goal by Jason Davis of the Belleville Police Department, assisted by Wood River police officer Jess Thomas, with less than a minute remaining in the second half, making it a 4-1 lead for the Hoses.
“We (firefighters) played good; it was a good game all-around,” organizer Larry Ulrich said. “The police guys came out wanting it in the beginning, but they kind of slacked off in the second and came back hard in the third. Of course we’re going to have some bragging rights fun with this. We’re putting a select group together and we hope to maybe do some traveling to area tournaments. Once or twice a year we’re going to do a Guns and Hoses game to raise funds for things that are needed.”
The police officers hit the ice in the third period and didn’t waste time lighting up the scoreboard. Thomas found the back of the firefighters’ net off an assist from the Navy’s Rob Meintrup at 9:42. Just as the Guns cut the Hoses’ lead in half, the firefighters struck back with a goal from Justin Patrick of the Fairview Heights Fire Department, assisted by Harmon. Harmon wasn’t finished for the Hoses; he cuffed the Guns with an unassisted goal to bring the final score to 6-2.
“We are really thrilled with how the first annual Guns and Hoses hockey event went,” Sara Ulrich said. “It’s still early, but I believe we raised roughly $1,700 for the Lehr family so far today. We’ve invited everyone to the Alton Sports Tap for an after-party, where we will still pass the boot for collections.”
Anyone interested in making a donation to the Lehr family can send donations to the Medora Fire Department at P.O. Box 81, Medora, IL 62063. Memorials can also be made to the Medora Fire Department or the Medora Ambulance service in honor of Chief Kenny Lehr.
Departments that took part in the First Annual Guns and Hoses event were:
Fire: Alton, Belleville, Bethalto, Brighton, Fairview Heights, Godfrey, Granite City, Jerseyville, Mitchell, Prairietown and Roxana.
Police: Alton, Belleville, East Alton, Madison County, U.S. Navy and Wood River.