By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
It was more than a hat trick for the Burlington Fire Department’s Honor Guard.
The group presented the colors at a National Hockey League game, completing the cycle in North Carolina for major sporting events.
A quartet from Burlington was on the ice during Saturday night’s pregame for the national anthem when the Carolina Hurricanes faced the Anaheim Ducks.
“We’ve done inside events before,” Honor Guard member Chuck Loy said. “This is the biggest inside crowd we’ve had. This was the only professional sport event we had not performed for.”
It was a sell-out crowd of 18,818 at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Loy is in the unofficial role of captain of the Honor Guard. Those joining him on the ice were Dalton Stanfield, Lawrence Alvis and Jeremy Guthrie.
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“It’s pretty exciting being on the ice,” Guthrie said. “We’re not doing it for notoriety. We do it to honor the U.S. and our fire department.”
In terms of what Loy would refer to as major-league sports in North Carolina, this completed a cycle. The Burlington Fire Department Honor Guard has made previous appearances for home games of the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets along with NASCAR Cup Series racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.
“You don’t know how much that gets your name out there,” Loy said.
For the hockey game, the four Burlington firefighters wore grippies on the bottom of their Honor Guard shoes. They were on a carpet that was placed on the ice.
“None of us had ever been on the ice with the Honor Guard,” Loy said.
Loy, 54, is second generation firefighter in Burlington, following his father, Charles Loy. He has been with the department for nearly 29 years, with about 26 of those including involvement with the Honor Guard.
Participating in the Honor Guard is a volunteer activity. There are 12 members across all shifts within the department. Loy was back on duty Sunday.
Guthrie, 40, is a Graham High School graduate who has been with the fire department since February 2003. He normally attends a Hurricanes game or two each season, so this was a different perspective.
“It was really loud out there,” he said. “(Compared to) when we did a NASCAR event, it seemed like miles away from you.”
Often, the Honor Guard’s role is to be present at firefighters’ funerals and more solemn occasions.
“I’ve folded one too many flags,” Loy said, noting that because of his family’s history with the department, he has personally known many firefighters who have passed away.
Loy said it was his second visit to PNC Arena. Handling duties at so many venues is gratifying.
“We weren’t designed to do all this fun stuff,” Loy said. “This is a bonus.”
Battalion chief Paul Watlington said the Honor Guard has generated a positive impression for the department, particularly with the many local events it has attended. Those types of occasions continue to be the focal point for the group.
“We created an image of what we do,” Watlington said. “When we do have these opportunities to step out, this is huge for us.”
Watlington said performing at a 2017 Panthers game generated widespread attention. From there, many of the larger-scale opportunities have developed.
The Honor Guard was slated for a Professional Bull Riders event at the Greensboro Coliseum in 2020, but that went by the wayside because of COVID-19, Watlington said.
Loy and Watlington said the Honor Guard has been contacted about presenting the colors for the NASCAR All-Star race in May at North Wilkesboro. They also said there might be more dates when the group is invited back to the Hurricanes.
The group didn’t turn out to be good luck for the Hurricanes, who suffered a rare home loss. The Ducks won, 3-2.