Guns and Hoses: Assisting families of fallen first responders and supporting local police, fire children’s charities

by | Aug 30, 2018 | Life & Style

The Guns and Hoses Boxing event will take place at the Allen Event Center Sept. 8. (Sonia Duggan/The Farmersville Times)

In one week 32 amateur boxers will step into the ring for the first time before an estimated crowd of five thousand people at Allen Event Center.

Friendly foes, DFW area firefighters and police officers, will face off against each other in the 17th annual Guns and Hoses Boxing Tournament after training only a few months for this much anticipated night.

The 3-hour evening of fun and camaraderie is much like any other professional boxing event with announcers, card girls and all the fanfare but includes an honor guard, bagpipes and a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.

Ultimately, for the first responders, this fundraiser isn’t really about boxing; it’s about giving back to the brotherhood by getting into the ring to raise funds for the families of fallen officers in North Texas.

While tickets can be purchased a variety of ways, participating first responders can sell tickets to the event for $20. Once they raise $2,500 in ticket sales, they are awarded a highly coveted Guns & Hoses ring, similar in design and size to a Super Bowl ring.

At the conclusion of the boxing tournament that evening, six fellow officers and firefighters killed in 2018 and their families will be recognized.

All of the net funds raised at the tournament are dedicated to the benevolent fund to provide monetary assistance to the families of police and firefighters who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.

Supporting fallen first responders

Since 2002, the Guns and Hoses Foundation of North Texas, a 501c3, has been dedicated to assisting the families of fallen first responders who have lost their lives in the line of duty and supporting local police and fire children’s charities.

At the helm as volunteer Executive Director of Guns and Hoses is a man named Dave Swavey. He is a determined individual who understands the brotherhood of the men and women in blue. Not only did Swavey serve his country in the Air Force, he served the city of Garland as a Lieutenant with the police department for 35 years until his retirement last year. His family understands his commitment to serve as well. His wife of 37 years, Tricia, spent 27 years serving as a Plano firefighter and his oldest daughter is a member of the Dallas Police Force.

Like many police officers, Swavey’s life has had many life changing events while on the job. More specifically, he clearly remembers when his first fellow officer was killed in Garland in 1989. At the time, the department didn’t have an honor guard. “We didn’t have anything,” he said. “Because I was ex-military, I ended up folding the flag.”

The department later formed an honor guard and soon Swavey was traveling to other cities for funerals of fallen officers, frequently witnessing the pain and suffering on the faces of widows and their families.

In 1991 Swavey became the supervisor of the Garland gang unit, and in1995, at the urging of the department, he formed a boxing program for at-risk kids. As the program grew, Swavey knew eventually the kids would get bored boxing unless he could take them to tournaments. Unfortunately, the funding wasn’t there for the city to support the gym to that extent.

   Swavey was determined to find the answer to help with expenses for the kids.

“I was running up expenses on my credit card just to pay for things for the kids. When it reached $10,000 my wife said it had to stop,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, an acquaintance suggested Swavey look into the Guns and Hoses organization based in St. Louis, Missouri. Though they couldn’t meet in person, Swavey spoke with Myrl Taylor, one of the three founders of the original Guns and Hoses. Taylor happened to be an ex-con and the son of amateur boxing legend Earl Taylor. Over a short time, Myrl and his partners had managed to grow Guns and Hoses into a successful nonprofit. Swavey said Myrl told him it was really hard to get the program off the ground, “but if you can do it, you’ll see the energy it creates.”

Myrl’s only stipulation for Swavey using the Guns and Hoses name was that the majority of funds go to the fallen first responders. While that was not a problem given Swavey’s profession and what he had experienced, he also wanted to be able to give back to boxing and children’s charities.

They struck a deal, allowing Swavey to use the name and Myrl gave his blessing.

Shortly thereafter, Guns and Hoses North Texas was off and running.

   Though their mission is to help families of fallen officers, deciding the range of their service area was a challenge. Ultimately, they decided to aid the counties that North Texas Water District supplied – 16 counties until 2013 when the Gainesville Police Chief died after a freak accident. His death made Swavey realize someone from Gainesville had been fighting in the boxing tournament in years past, so they included Cooke County.

   A few years later, the nonprofit aligned with Lakeside Brewery in Garland after they named a craft beer, “All Call,” with two percent of the profits going toward Guns and Hoses North Texas. The brewery asked them to extend coverage to Abilene because they were shipping All Call there as well. Ironically, three weeks later a female prison guard was killed in Abilene while on duty. To date, Guns and Hoses has extended their coverage to 20 counties even though the majority of the funding comes from the DFW Metroplex.

   When first responders are killed in the line of duty it can take months, even years, for benefits to be determined, leaving a family with large funeral expenses and without income to pay basic expenses.

   For that reason, in the first 48 hours after the death of a first responder in the line of duty, Guns and Hoses will write and deliver a substantial check to a family member.

   “We’ve paid for fallen (first responders) even though the government does not consider it a duty death. If he’s in uniform sitting in his car he’s on duty,” Swavey said.

   Sadly, the nonprofit has had to deliver many of those checks over the years. In August 2016 Abilene Det. Elise Ybarra was killed in Dallas when a pickup truck ran into the back of her car. Elise and two other officers (uninjured) had traveled to Dallas for a conference about Crimes against Children. She was just 33 years old. She left behind a 10-month old daughter and her husband, Adam Ybarra.

After SMU officer Mark McCullers was swept away by Turtle Creek floodwaters July 6, 2016, leaving behind six children, the Guns and Hoses board made a decision to double the amount donated to families of the fallen from $10,000 to $20,000. Each child would now receive $1,000 on their first Christmas and $1,000 upon graduation from high school.

“We felt like we would like to give more,” Swavey said.

   When the July 7, 2016 ambush happened. Swavey’s daughter was on duty that night. He couldn’t contact her but thankfully, he saw her on television and knew she was unharmed.

Though not sure how they could get the amount of funds needed to support the widows and the families, local sports radio station 105.3 quickly stepped in and offered to help. Soon they began to get donations from all over the world. “That helped us put ourselves in a place that we never thought we’d be,” he said.

   The combined efforts raised $275,000, enabling Guns and Hoses to do something they had never done before. They donated $10,000 to each of the wounded officers, $65,000 to the widows and put aside funds to give $14,000 to every child of the five fallen once they graduate.

To date, the nonprofit has served families of 55 fallen officers and firefighters. Keeping track of the families and children is a task in itself.

Denise Hunter, widow of a fallen officer, serves as the family liaison on the board of the foundation. In her role, she keeps track of the fallen and sends cards to the families at Christmas and on Line-of-Duty anniversaries.

Denise and her 14-year-old daughter were one of the first two families to receive funds from the nonprofit in 2004. She knows firsthand what challenges families of fallen will encounter. Her husband, Sgt. Greg Hunter, was ambushed and killed by a gunman in a Walmart parking lot in Grand Prairie. Even though his death was considered Line-of-Duty, Denise said it took almost two years for her to receive one of her benefits. The other one was denied. At the time, she was 34 years old, just shy of the average age of a surviving spouse of a fallen first responder.

   Despite suffering from depression, Denise began volunteering in 2006 for the nonprofit at every fundraising event. “Being able to volunteer was very therapeutic for me,” she said.

   Now her daughter is grown, Denise stated that she volunteers about 80 to 90 percent of her free time. “It’s the best unpaid job I’ve ever had,” she said. “As a survivor, my mantra is it’s never really about us, it’s about everyone else who we can reach out to serve and help. It is about giving back.”

   Denise said Guns and Hoses works very hard to be able to service the family and provide immediate financial assistance.

“The normal family is not going to have money to pay for the funeral and many times survivors have said they don’t know how they would have paid for the funeral without their help,” she said.

   When it comes to fundraisers, no matter what the event is, all funds go toward the same mission.

   When Swavey planned the first boxing event at the Mesquite Rodeo Arena in 2003 he said he never knew it would grow to what it is today.

“I had a pack of problems (with the event) and at the end of the night when I was paying (for the arena) the man said, “You won’t be coming back here. Next year you’ll get too big.’” It was true. Over 2,500 people attended that night. Seventeen years later, average attendance is 5,000 at the boxing event.

   Because police officers and firefighters enjoy competing against each other in events near home, the fundraisers have flourished. Guns and Hoses now hosts two golf tournaments, a hockey tournament and a stair climb at the Cotton Bowl for first responders.

“Society never gets to see cops and firemen in a private setting, Swavey said. “I think it gives a unique perspective and a new meaning to what they call public servants.”

   In addition to the families of the fallen, Guns and Hoses supports Camp Moss, the Buddy League in Garland and multiple police and fire supported children’s charities.

It all began with boxing

   His mission to serve the kids of the boxing program and families of the fallen fueled the journey to Guns and Hoses for Swavey.

   In his youth, he was a boxer as was his father and brother. He knows the discipline of the sport and the impact it can have on youth.

“What boxing taught me is what it teaches everybody. It teaches you how to go forward. It teaches you the discipline that a lot of kids don’t have today,” Swavey said.

   Initially the after-school boxing program he started operated out of a small building on Lavon Drive. They later moved to a large building in downtown Garland. Over the years, as tenants have moved out of the building, the program gradually consumed all the space. The City of Garland funds the building, called the Garland Police 9th Street Gym.

   While running the boxing program and Guns and Hoses, Swavey was the supervisor for the GISD Student Resource Officers for 13 years. His served his last two years as an administrator until he retired in 2016 after serving 35 years with the police department.

   Guns and Hoses offices out of the gym. Swavey is employed part-time as the gym supervisor. Kris Hostrup, a Garland middle school SRO, works with him during the summer giving information to families who visit, then at night helping with the kids. Kris is also the treasurer of the foundation. Kris’ wife Julie maintains the gym office at night and works for the school district during the day. Volunteers fill the gaps where help is needed. A Community Development Block Grant helps fund two coaches and an administrative assistant.

   On a typical afternoon after school, the gym is a bustling hub of activity. The program has now grown to around 100 kids, 30 of which are girls. Kids work with boxing coaches and every few months they put on a beginners class for 40-50 kids to help indoctrinate them into the sport. For youth that want to take their boxing skills a step further, Swavey makes sure they have the opportunity to compete at boxing tournaments as well.

   In another area of the building, there is a room set aside for karate where Municipal Court Judge Robert Beasley teaches classes. The Garland courts allow first time offender kids to work their way out of minor offenses by doing community service at the gym, often resulting in them joining.

An added perk for the community is for those who choose who join the military.

“Any child that is going in to the military is allowed to come in and work out to get in shape for boot camp,” Swavey said.

   The gym has an education room and Garland ISD funds a teacher with 39 years experience to help tutor and counsel the kids. A bilingual teacher is on hand to help out part time. There are six laptops and a printer where students can complete their homework since many do not have computers at home. Grades must be submitted by students when report cards are issued. Volunteers keep track of the report card schedule in order to hold the kids accountable.

   The success stories are plentiful and when Swavey talks about “his” kids and their accomplishments, he sounds like a proud father.

“Seventy-two percent of the kids made the A/B honor roll all last year,” he said.

   After they graduate high school, many of the program youth are motivated to further their future career goals. “Some are police officers, some are firefighters, some join the military, and some are doctors,” he said. “One boy who could barely speak English graduated 10th in his class at GISD high.”

“It’s proven that this is why we do it.”

   Swavey lives by his mission and Guns and Hoses has proven to be the vehicle to make things happen, supporting the families of the fallen and the kids that he cares for so deeply.

“I’ll be at this for at least another 10 years,” he said. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

By Sonia Duggan • Associate Publisher • [email protected]

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