By STEFAN MODRICH
The death of longtime firefighter Ray Burciaga, who succumbed to cancer at age 57 on Feb. 17, 2019, left a gaping hole in the hearts of many in the city of Richmond and the community of first responders in Fort Bend County and beyond.
“He never met a stranger,” his wife, Judi Burciaga said. “He was that type of person.”
The Texas Brotherhood Ride, a group of about 30 first responders, arrived Friday morning by bicycle to the Richmond Fire Station No. 1. The visit was part of their 17-leg journey to honor those who have died in the line of duty to try to provide emotional support for those affected by the loss of one of their own.
Tim Dunn, the president of the Texas Brotherhood Ride and a firefighter with the Houston Fire Department, said the group began in 2014, inspired by a group of cycling first responders in Florida and South Carolina.
Following their stop in Richmond – on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. – the cyclists’ next destination was the Houston Space Center, and the 2020 tour is set to conclude in Seguin, a town in Central Texas.
“It’s so far-reaching,” Dunn said. “A lot of these people come from different states, they’ve never met the person, never knew them, but we’re there to honor them because we all share that and we all understand that it’s one big brotherhood.”
Richmond Fire Chief Michael Youngblood said the occasion commemorating Ray Burciaga’s passing was bittersweet for him.
“I have mixed feelings about it, because it means there’s someone we’ve lost,” Youngblood said. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my career, but I’ve never seen anything like what’s going on with (COVID-19) and there’s a lot of anxiety in the world. To have these guys come by and visit and put the effort into riding bicycles all this way is really heartwarming.”
Burciaga began his 28-year run in Richmond as a volunteer firefighter who rose through the ranks, becoming a full-time firefighter and later enrolling in the police academy to become an arson investigator and fire captain before being named assistant emergency management coordinator in 2007.
He was appointed chief of the city’s emergency management department in 2010.
Richmond Fire Marshal Albert Cantu said Burciaga left “nothing undone” during his career as a first responder.
“Ray knew a lot of people here,” Cantu said. “He was very respectful, just a good person all the way around. He was very dedicated to the city and the community.”
Al Burciaga, Ray’s brother, started the Raymond V. Burciaga Memorial Scholarship Fund through his Fort Bend Helping Heroes Charity, based in Needville.
The fund awarded its first scholarship, designed to aid children of first responders in Fort Bend County, to Brandon Anderson of Sugar Land.
“I just thought it was very fitting because my husband was in the service all his life,” Judi Burciaga said. “And he knew so many people that we wanted to do that for him, just as a legacy.”
Judi said she was grateful for the support from the Texas Brotherhood and that Ray would be proud and humbled by their recognition of his career.
“Everybody here has been touched by it, and it’s what keeps people coming back,” Dunn said. “It’s really an effort and a sacrifice to do it.”