Joe Warne heads out June 5 for his 140-mile walk wearing firefighter bunker gear to help raise funds for Michigan firefighters battling cancer. Just as he left the station, heavy rains poured down, drenching the first leg of his walk to Grand Rapids, where he arrived June 8.

Joe Warne heads out June 5 for his 140-mile walk wearing firefighter bunker gear to help raise funds for Michigan firefighters battling cancer. Just as he left the station, heavy rains poured down, drenching the first leg of his walk to Grand Rapids, where he arrived June 8.

Photo by Brandy Baker


Macomb Township Firefighter walks 140 miles for cancer-fighting funds

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published June 11, 2019

 Tara Dougherty and her children Livia, 5, and Liam, 10, watch as sibling Kenzi, 8, high-fives Macomb Township firefighter Joe Warne.

Tara Dougherty and her children Livia, 5, and Liam, 10, watch as sibling Kenzi, 8, high-fives Macomb Township firefighter Joe Warne.

Photo by Brandy Baker

 Macomb Township Fire Department Chaplain Carl Seitz, left, offers prayers for firefighter Joe Warne while his wife Kristie lays her head on his shoulder and his father, also named Joe, bows his head.

Macomb Township Fire Department Chaplain Carl Seitz, left, offers prayers for firefighter Joe Warne while his wife Kristie lays her head on his shoulder and his father, also named Joe, bows his head.

Photo by Brandy Baker

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Joe Warne doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk — a rather long walk.

The Macomb Township firefighter and Neighbors United president had a simple goal – raise money for firefighters with cancer. The 140-mile path he took to get there wasn’t as easy.

Warne departed from Macomb Township Fire Station No. 2 on 21 Mile Road at 7:30 a.m. June 5 en route to Grand Rapids. Within seconds of beginning the walk, a heavy rain started. The plan was for Warne to travel an average of 35 miles a day on foot and to arrive in Michigan’s second largest city June 8, after deadline for the Macomb Township Chronicle.

By 2 p.m. June 7, he was in Watertown Township, roughly 55 miles from Grand Rapids.

Warne, 39, attempted the walk wearing firefighter bunker gear to help Michigan firefighters battling cancer. He had roughly 50 pounds of gear including a coat, pants, airpack and helmet. He also carried an American flag on his journey.

“My brothers and sisters are contracting this horrid disease faster than anyone else,” he said. “The number one cause of firefighters’ line of duty deaths now is cancer.”

Neighbors United was founded in 2013 by Warne and consists of people who are dedicated to helping individuals and families who are down on their luck and need the extra help. Its goal is to change lives one family at a time.

“He’s a representative of all our personnel,” Macomb Township Fire Chief Robert Phillips said minutes before Warne left the station. “What he’s doing is extraordinary and it represents the commitment level our department has to helping people.”

Along the walk, numerous individuals stopped Warne to thank him for what he was doing, take a picture and financially contribute to Neighbors United.

Phillips said it was the first time in his career he’s known any firefighter to do what Warne did.

The Madison Heights native said 80% of what is raised will be going directly to the families battling cancer in Michigan. As of June 7, over $11,200 was raised. The goal was $10,000.

Warne got the idea for a long walk after he moved back to Michigan from Texas.

“I always wanted to walk to raise funds for cancer,” he said. “This year, I thought, ‘What a better way than to walk from one side of the state to the other?”

Besides standard firefighter fitness training, Warne said he prepared by walking around the station for 10 to 15 miles in full gear with boots.

Warne said Neighbors United helps one family at a time by going to great lengths to do great things for those who are in need or down on their luck.

He said the plan was to walk between 12 and 16 hours a day. Google Maps estimated the walk would take around 48 hours. He added it will probably be the first and the last time he embarks on such a lengthy walk.

The route Warne took was mainly side streets, including Auburn Road, Elizabeth Lake Road and Grand River Avenue, which leads to Grand Rapids.

“When people heard I am doing this, some say I’m crazy or stupid, but it’s a great cause,” he said. “The support has been overwhelming.”

Warne’s father, also named Joe, said his son was meant to do the walk and that he is very ambitious and motivated.

“He wanted to do something above the call of duty and I think he was meant to do some of this stuff,” he said. “He wants to leave a good imprint and pay it forward.”

In March, Warne was presented the 2019 Macomb Township Firefighter of the Year award. He has worked for the Macomb Township Fire Department for seven years. Prior to moving to Macomb Township, he worked as a firefighter in Texas for three years.