59th Hero Thrill Show to honor police, fire figures


Through 19 New Year’s Day trips along Broad Street, Joseph Rapone has grown accustomed to accepting applause as a member of the Satin Slipper Fancy Brigade, 1444 S. Second St.

While he has enjoyed collecting kudos, he derives more joy out of bestowing it and will blend his penchants for performing and praising Saturday when he and his highway patrol motorcycle drill team peers participate in the 59th annual Hero Thrill Show in the Wells Fargo Center parking lot, 3601 S. Broad St.

“We’re all proud to help out, especially because we’re honoring our predecessors,” the resident of the 100 block of Mifflin Street said Tuesday of generating college tuition for the offspring of fallen Philadelphia police officers and firefighters. “We’ve been practicing for six weeks and are ready to give everyone a great afternoon.”

Setting out from the Philadelphia Museum of Art area with notable actor Chazz Palminteri, who will conclude a three-day staging of “A Bronx Tale” that evening at the Center City-situated Prince Music Theater, grand marshal Richard Dietl, fire department personnel and organizer Jimmy Binns, the Pennsport dweller and his fellow officers will guide hundreds of motorcyclists, including civilian riders, to the sports complex, where they will perform daredevil stunts. Their involvement dovetails with Binns’ aim to promote positivity as a deterrent to tragedy.

“We promise great performances and spectacular displays of power and dedication,” the resident of the 800 block of Catharine Street said. “We’re giving our respect and encouraging others to foster a bright future for the children of our departed friends.”

The Bella Vista figure became aligned with the project seven years ago. The brainchild of civic leaders who responded to a 1954 Kensington-situated blaze that claimed 10 firefighters by establishing the Hero Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia, the initiative had gone from drawing thousands of supporters in its heyday at such sites as the Pennsylvania Convention Center and John F. Kennedy Stadium, to attracting barely a couple hundred backers before his arrival. Forming the Hero Thrill Show Inc., at the behest of then-Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, the lawyer sought to alleviate the emotional and educational burdens of affected youths and took attendance from 13,000 for his inaugural event, with Sylvester Stallone as grand marshal, to nearly 40,000 last year.

“I’d gone as a child, but I lost touch with it,” Binns said of prior awareness of the show’s scope, through which more than 800 family survivors have received higher learning financial aid, with more than $2 million coming through his efforts. “It’s fantastic to fight back against sadness with a celebration of the possibilities of these young lives, and it always heightens the pride of the personnel involved to know they’re simultaneously acknowledging the past and looking out for the future.”

Schedule of events

Noon to 12:40 p.m.: Hero Thrill Show kickoff with actor Chazz Palminteri, Hero Thrill Show President and CEO Jimmy Binns and 2013 Grand Marshal Richard “Bo” Deitl leading the Highway Patrol Motorcycle Drill Team in a procession of police and fire department personnel

12:45 p.m. to 1:30: Police Motorcycle Highway Patrol Drill Team daredevil stunts
1:40 p.m.: Memorial Tribute to Highway Patrolman Brian Lorenzo who was killed in the line of duty in 2012
1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Police K-9 Unit performances
2:45 to 3:30 p.m.: S.W.A.T. and Homeland Security demonstrations
3:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.: Fire Department showcase of apparatus and safety demonstration
4:15 to 5 p.m.: Police Motorcycle Highway Patrol Drill Team Daredevil stunt finale

According to the City, which began to log such records in the 19th century, more than 280 police officers and 285 firefighters have died in the line of duty. A lifelong Philadelphian and former Pennsylvania Boxing Commissioner, Binns has engaged in his own figurative fight to show pride in their ultimate sacrifice and give their kin kindness.

“Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and, yes, we all want our particular areas kept safe, but we all benefit because of the overall strength of the fire and police departments,” the reverent figure said of the civil servants. “When they lose a member of their forces, we all suffer, especially their loved ones.”

Binns has commended the fallen individuals primarily through overseeing the installation and dedication of 215 memorial police and hero firefighter plaques throughout the city, with 270 such memorials marking losses across the Delaware Valley. He has prepared for Saturday’s extravaganza, which he hopes will draw 60,000 spectators, by riding a motorcycle, though he will leave the jaw-dropping feats to his younger allies.

“This is my eighth year on the team, and I’ll be a starter for our role in everything,” Rapone, who joined his mates for a trek to the nation’s capital in May for Police Week during which they also commended their fellow defenders of the common good, said. “We’re sharpening our skills and I’m thrilled to support the cause.”

The 16-year patrol veteran, who also spent four years working for the 3rd District, 1300 S. 11th St., and Binns love that they will be orchestrating external joy, but the internal variety also weighs on their minds. As the show has evolved from being a City production from its debut until ’90 to a Hero Scholarship Fund endeavor through 2005 to its current status as a Hero Thrill Show Inc. labor of love, an interest in giving recipients the best chances at career-forming opportunities has never waned. Binns is assisting 17 students to excel at trade schools, colleges and universities, with six other youngsters to receive funds when they become eligible. Adding more endowed parties means parting with colleagues in upholding law and order, but Binns chooses not to deal in sadness, focusing solely on strength.

“Our families are true survivors,” he said, singling out the Skerski clan, which lost patriarch Gary, a 16-year presence on the 15th District force, to a gunman’s bullet May 8, ’06 in Frankford. “They’ve struggled but with most of them, you’d never know what they’ve been through.”

Like Binns before him, Robert Skerski is studying at La Salle University and aims to use his criminal justice interest to secure a prominent position with the FBI. The young man’s sister Nicole, a senior at North Philly’s Little Flower High School, will matriculate at La Salle, too, further solidifying Binns’ belief that one must somehow make sense of what seems nonsensical and contribute to society.

“These kids are all great people who’ve had tremendous setbacks,” the overseer, who will complete his cadet training and become a police officer in December, said. “They give so much pride and affirm my thinking that this is a self-rewarding program. Whatever you put in, you get back five-fold.”  

Tickets are $10 to $25 and can be purchased at comcasttix.com. For more information, visit herothrillshow.org.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.