Friday, September 20, 2013

Valley gives $87,000 to firefighters

Foundation helps families of injured, killed firefighters

Express Staff Writer

     Since the Beaver Creek Fire started last month, Blaine County residents have donated $86,939 to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, an organization that helps the families of killed or injured firefighters.

     Foundation Executive Director Vicki Minor said she has been impressed by the generosity of Wood River Valley residents, as well as by the hospitality they showed to the firefighters.

     “Our firefighters were just blown away by how they were treated there,” she said.           

     Minor said the foundation has received one check for $10,000 and two for $5,000 from valley residents, but most of the money was in small amounts sent by a large number of people. She said the foundation continues to receive checks daily.

     “I’m just stunned by the compassion that people have for these firefighters,” she said.

     Minor said the foundation’s annual budget is about $500,000, “depending on what kind of a year it was.”

     Minor said one of the foundation’s primary missions is to pay the bills of families of firefighters who are injured and temporarily unable to work. She said that with the help of Wood River Valley contributions, aid is being given to the wife and 11-month-old baby of one man who fought the Beaver Creek Fire and went from there to a major wildfire in California, where he burned his feet and is now recovering in a hospital after receiving skin grafts.

     “That money went right back out to touch firefighters’ lives,” she said.

     Minor said other activities of the foundation include:

  • Financial help to the families of firefighters who die in the line of duty until benefits kick in.
  • A Santa’s Helper Program to buy Christmas presents for children of killed firefighters.
  • A long-term grief recovery program for family members. Every May, the foundation holds a Family Day in Boise.
  • Counseling for firefighters who have been in traumatic situations.
  •  Maintaining a memorial to fallen firefighters built in 1997 next to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, near the Boise airport. The memorial is in a natural setting with bronze statues and a walkway paved with stones containing the names of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

     According to the National Interagency Fire Center, an average of 18 wildland firefighters have been killed each year since 1910. By far the most—about 350—were killed in California, followed by Idaho, with about 130 deaths.

     The Wildland Firefighter Foundation reports that this year there have been 31 fatalities, due primarily to the tragedy at Yarnell, Ariz., that killed 19 men. According to the foundation’s website, others died in California, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey.

     NIFC reports that the most common cause of death—42 percent—is “burnover,” when firefighters are overrun by flames. Heart attack and vehicle accidents are the second and third most common.

     No deaths or serious injuries were reported on the Beaver Creek Fire.

     On Aug. 25, after the fire was mostly out, firefighters were invited by Sun Valley Resort to attend an appreciation party at River Run. Minor said she was surprised by the thousands of people who attended.

     “People kept coming in the rain,” she said. “And the quality of the food that was served—they’ve never had that happen, ever.”

     Minor said one firefighter noted that a community’s reaction to the approach of a wildfire reveals a lot about it.

     “A lot of times when a fire starts, people pack up their things and leave,” she said. “That didn’t happen here. It was neighbor helping neighbor.”

     As examples, Minor cited the resort’s reduction of prices at the Sun Valley Lodge to take in people and their pets who had to evacuate their homes, as well as property owners’ willingness to board animals from evacuated areas.

     Minor said she had only been to the Sun Valley area a couple of times, having felt somewhat intimidated by its reputation as an abode of the wealthy and famous. However, she said, when she visited following the Beaver Creek Fire, she discovered that people in that category make up only a small part of the population.

     “I have never felt so relaxed and so welcomed and so touched by the everyday people who live and work there,” she said. “Those are real people who live up there. I will be back to Sun Valley.”

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