Friday, August 31, 2007

Firefighters have recourse after blaze cools

Wildland Firefighter Foundation takes care


By SABINA DANA PLASSE
Express Staff Writer

A memorial for wildland firefighters is located near the Boise airport at the National Interagency Fire Center.

Helping injured and fallen firefighters and their families, Boise-based Wildland Firefighter Foundation exists to give financial aid and support to firefighters and families who struggle with loss.

"It's our job to take care of each other," said foundation Director Vicki Minor. "The government system is so taxed, they don't have time to clean up injured firefighters and fatalities."

Minor has worked at the foundation since 1999 when it became a legal 501c3 non-profit organization. Since then, the foundation has given out $1.5 million in monetary aid and assisted 212 families of fallen firefighters, mostly in the West. The foundation recognizes the firefighters annually in a memorial Family Fire event with a U.S. Forest Service Honor Guard, the BLM Honor Guard and Cal Fire Honor Guard in attendance in uniform with bagpipes and presentation of colors.

"I think people want to help, and they don't know how," Minor said. "This is an opportunity for them. It's the one thing they can do for the firefighters."

Minor has received many calls from the field where a firefighter has been brought to tears due to the loss of a crew member or sustained an injury while battling a wildland blaze. The foundation makes it a priority to send money, food, burn kits and other supplies to the field whenever requested. In addition, the foundation has a lawyer on retainer who assists injured firefighters work through their workman's compensation issues.

"The foundation runs on a 7 percent overhead, which is barely anything," Minor said. "We make it work with lots of volunteers who put in countless hours. Every person on the board of directors has been a firefighter or known someone lost in a fire."

Firefighters sustain lung damage from smoke and are prone to brain tumors and lung cancer. Minor said there are no benefits that cover fire fighters for those complications. Minor has many stories to tell about the heroic efforts of firefighters and the ability of the foundation to take care of those in need.

"This is what I know," Minor said. "I have been helping with wildland firefighters since the mid '80s. I've seen sheets flying off porches everywhere, which say 'Thank You Firefighters.' I always say that's so nice. My own son's home burned down in Alaska, and the floor fell down on my grandkid's bed and if the dogs hadn't kept waking everyone up they would not be alive. The dogs were left inside the house, and when the firefighters rescued the dogs I started to cry."

Minor said that it really touches the firefighters to know they have done such a great job.

"Any time anything goes bad out in the field, people call because they know we are there to help them," she said. "It really isn't about money, it's about compassion."

A bronze eight-and-half-foot-tall statue at a memorial park at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, next to the airport, is dedicated to the wildland firefighters and is a place of peace, remembrance, reflection and gratitude.

How you can help

Become a member of the 52 Club by donating $1 per week for a year. With a $52 annual donation you receive a patch, a pin and a helmet sticker declaring your support for wildland firefighters. A donation helps cover family, memorial or funeral expenses, with extra or additional funds going into a general fund to help the next family that may need financial assistance and support. Donations are critical to the foundation's ability to help families when a death or injury occurs.

Contact the Wildland Fire Fund at wffoundation.org or call (208) 336-2996.




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