RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (WSAV) — Tom Hill, or Bull as they call him, holds the weight of thousands of families on his shoulders.
“We do these walks not only to honor the firefighter but to help the families heal,” said Hill. “The families of firefighters feel really left out because we’re like an extended hand to their families, but when they pass away life goes on for other people,” Hill added.
Hill, a former 33-year firefighter in Orange County, FL, has organized and participated in a number of marathon walks since he started in 2018. The first, an 800 mile trek from mile-marker zero in Key West, to the Florida state capital in Tallahassee.
“I started at mile marker zero in Florida and I think it was close to 800 miles, 50 days later I walked up to the capital steps. I went down there with 74 items on that pack and we now have 18 packs with over 1500 items, because people have reached out from all over,” Hill said.
In his current trip, Hill, joined by Savannah Fire Capt. Damon Driggers, started at the Florida-Georgia line on May 27th. At a pace of 12 miles per day, they will make their way up to Charlestion, S.C. on June 18th, the 14th anniversary of the Charleston nine tragedy that claimed the lives of nine firefighters. One of whom is represented on Hill’s military-grade pack.
“We do these walks not only to honor the firefighter but to help the families heal. Just the simple act of putting a thin red line and duct-taping a flag on a mile marker when they go by it, they say it makes their days. To walk through these states carrying their husbands or sons patch-tags or helmet shields, it just brightens their day that someone is remembering them,” said Hill. “What we’ve done on highway 17 here in Georgia, from mile marker 2 in Liberty County, I’ve driven ahead and marked each mile with the name of a fallen firefighter. I have 1500 of em’ to mark, we’ve kinda deemed it the hero’s highway,” explained Hill.
Hill advocates for firefighters and their families to receive better state benefits, especially when it comes to issues regarding cancer. A firefighter present explained that in Georgia, very seldom does the state rule that cancer is a health-risk associated with being a firefigher.
“This job actually kills us, and our families get the short end of the stick of our careers. As much as we do to try and be good husbands and good fathers, this job in one way or another will kill a firefighter. Even if it’s through PTSD, which they say 80% to 90% of firefighters have even if they don’t know it,” Hill said.
Hill has lost many of those closest to him in his profession.
“One firefighter I had, came to me one day and said, ‘Bull I’m dying I need your help.’ The day before he died he handed me his helmet shield and asked me, ‘just carry this with me and remember me always,’ and he said, ‘make me a promise that you’ll help the brotherhood and that you’ll make a change in the state with the cancer law,’ and I had no idea what to do. He said, ‘I’m ashamed to be a fireman for the state of Florida because I left my family with nothing.’ If you can imagine a guy on his dying days regretting everything he’s ever done, that’s horrible,” explained Hill.
Tom ‘Bull’ Hill created The Firehood Foundation, a charity that initially focused on supporting firefighters and their families who are dealing with occupational cancer, but quickly expanded to help those suffering from PTSD, as well as heart and lung disease.
Hill wants to execute several walks in the coming months, including one he’s planning in New York City for a special 9/11 tribute. Hill wants the public to know that, if you ever encounter him during one of the marathon walks or would like to come out and participate, anybody that wants to walk is welcome.