Firefighter, his dog biking cross-country to raise mental health awareness

New Mexico News

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A man and his dog are on a cross-country ride raising money for fallen and injured wildland firefighters. Morale is high 1,000 miles into Kevin Conley and his dog Rocky’s cross country bike ride after what was a grueling seven-month-long fire season.


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“I started to have severe panic attacks every single day. I felt like I was going to die every day, it was very debilitating. I just went through hell,” said Conley.

He spent the last four years on Wildland fire crews. Men and women spend weeks at a time away from their own homes to fight massive fires all across the west. “Everyone’s leaving the town and that’s when you’re riding in through the smoke it feels like you’re doing something greater than yourself,” said Conley.

While rewarding, Conley said it is dangerous and draining too. When he realized his own mental health was taking a serious toll, he decided to do something about it. “I knew that I had to do something for myself to become a better person and get my mind in a better place but I knew I wanted to do it for a greater purpose and the first person, the first organization I thought of was the Wildland Firefighter Foundation,” Conley said.

He is riding across the country in hopes of raising awareness about firefighters’ mental health and money for the families of fallen or injured wildland firefighters. “Kevin’s route from where he started to all the way to where he’s going… he’s been passing through places where we’ve been busy the last several years. It seems like it never slows down,” said Burk Minor who runs the Boise-based foundation.

Minor was in New Mexico earlier this summer when smoke jumper, Tim Hart, died on the Eicks Fire in Hidalgo County. He says the money Conley raises will go a long way. “Over the years, we’ve gone a lot further than that into hardships of every kind and sort; mental disorders, cancers, a lot of times these guys will be out fighting fires and their actual home, own home will burn down while they’re fighting fires, so, there’s been a lot of hardship,” Minor said.

Signs of that hardship are seen by Conley on his ride. “I’ve been riding by all these fire scars and I’m reminded constantly of what’s happened and all the lives we’ve lost. We’ve lost a lot of lives in fire,” Conley said. “I think about wildland firefighters’ current and past and I try to honor them with every pedal that I make along the way.”

Conley and Rocky are making their way through New Mexico and will likely finish their ride in five to six weeks. For more information or to donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, visit wffoundation.org.

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