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Hero Thrill Show on Saturday

Photos by H. Michael Hammie for the Hero Thrill Show

Jimmy Binns has a way of making things happen.

When a beloved show honoring local first responders had reached a critical crossroads 16 years ago, Binns made sure it continued to pay tribute to its heroes. He can be a little bit persuasive.

“I asked (Sylvester) Stallone if he wanted to get his statue back at the art museum,” Binns said with a laugh. “He said he would love that but it would never happen. I said, ‘I know how to do it. I’ve done it before.’ ”

It was 2006 and Binns had just wrapped up shooting the movie Rocky Balboa, playing himself as the Pennsylvania boxing commissioner. Binns vowed to have Stallone’s 8-foot-6 statue returned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from the sports complex in South Philly. He asked Stallone for one small favor in return.

“I said I wanted him to be the grand marshal of this event I was going to run in September,” Binns said. “He said I’ll do it. We dedicated the statue at the art museum on a Friday afternoon and the next day we drove into the Wells Fargo Center for the Hero Thrill Show.”

It took a few negotiations with then-mayor John F. Street, the Fairmount Park Commission and the Philadelphia Art Commission, but Binns made good on his promise and so did Stallone. 

“In my first year running it, the attendance went from 50 people to 13,000,” Binns said. “And it’s bigger now than it was then.”

The Hero Thrill Show, an annual event, is a carnival boardwalk-style event that features police and fire department activities and apparatus. It raises college scholarship money for families who lose their loved ones in the line of duty in the police and fire departments. 

Photos by H. Michael Hammie for the Hero Thrill Show

It started in 1954 to benefit the families of eight firefighters who were killed on duty. It gained massive support through the 1960s but after the turn of the century, attendance had struggled. 

“As time went on, a lot of the movers and shakers of it retired or died and the board dwindled,” Binns said. “And so did the attendance. To the point where only about 50 to 100 people showed up. And that went on for 10 to 15 years.”

By 2006, organizers threatened to cancel it. But Binns, a practicing attorney who had created the Hero Plaque Program for cops and firefighters, decided to take the lead. It helped to have a movie star friend who helped breathe new life into the event and put the Hero Thrill Show back on the map.

This year, the Hero Thrill Show will be held on Sept. 10 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. It will feature mounted units, K-9 units, SWAT units and the highway motorcycle drill team. This year’s grand marshals are Andy and Teng Chan. Andy suffered a traumatic brain injury when his patrol motorcycle was hit by a motorist in Northeast Philadelphia in January 2019.

Photos by H. Michael Hammie for the Hero Thrill Show

Tickets are $15 for individuals and $35 for a family of up to five people. Tickets can be purchased at herothrillshow.org. Proceeds from the event will continue to help pay college tuition for the sons and daughters of fallen police officers or firefighters.

It’s something Binns has continued through the years, especially now that he has put in 10 years as a police officer in Delaware County.

“I don’t know what would have happened but I’m happy that I did it,” said Binns, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday later this month. “And I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

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