ORLANDO, Fla. — For 35 years, Jeff Brown has gone to work, not sure whether he'd make it through the day alive.
- Deputy Jeff Brown has seen fellow officers' careers end with injury
- Brown takes injured law enforcement officers, families on getaways
- He runs a nonprofit group called Hometown Heroes Alliance
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"For us, it used to be we would kiss our loved ones goodbye — we were almost assured we'd be back," said Brown, an Orange County Sheriff's deputy. "Now, you don't know."
Brown says hundreds of law enforcement officers were shot in the line of duty in the United States in 2018.
"We run to the gunfire. We run to the fires when everyone else is running away. And once in a while, we don't get to run away — we hobble away, and we need to help those guys that sacrificed that," Brown said.
He's seen fellow deputies' careers end suddenly, and the aftermath that follows.
"To have your whole life ripped out from under you, everything you've ever wanted to do, it's traumatic," Brown said. "When you see a guy who's worked so hard to put his kids through school, he gets injured, and then come and take his house because he can't pay those bills anymore, that will rip your heart out."
Brown began taking injured deputies on trips.
"We took (a) guy out fishing, and it was like, bingo — there it is," Brown said. "The smile on his face, the change in his whole attitude."
Through his nonprofit group Hometown Heroes Alliance, Brown has treated officers and deputies from across the country to trips and excursions, such as airboat rides.
"It's a great way to say 'thank you' to them and let them know we still care about them and what they sacrificed," Brown said.
Last year, Brown provided trips for the families of a dozen deputies in the Keys who'd lost their homes in Hurricane Maria in 2017.
"One deputy down there was living in a bait shop, so to be able to do that for them, it was amazing and heartwarming to watch those smiles," Brown said.
Officer Steve Smith was shot during an ambush while responding to a burglary call. His wife was on the other end of the dispatch call.
Brown took the couple on a trip.
"They were there for us. Now, we need to be there for them. That's what it comes down to," Brown said.
The trips also lead to a renewed purpose for the law enforcement officers, something Brown and his wife have seen firsthand.
"One of the really cool things we've found about this is after we have helped one of these guys, they come back and say, 'We want to help you — we want to help you help them' — and it's kind of contagious," Brown said.
"He may not be able to be out on patrol, but he can still help his brothers and sisters in blue," he said.
Brown runs his nonprofit with donations, of which he says 99 percent go back to the law enforcement officers he helps. You can find information to help at www.hometownheroesalliance.org.