Firefighter sprang from fatal fire
The night of the Storm King fire in 1994, Vicki Minor looked to the sky and asked the 14 firefighters who had died for some guidance to help their families.Their answer came five years later in the form of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, a nonprofit organization that Minor, the executive director, helped found in 1999. The organization provides emergency services to families of injured and fallen firefighters, in addition to maintaining a monument to the profession at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. “When a firefighter goes down, everyone in the community wants to help them,” said Minor, who owns Northwest Contractors in Boise, which supplies firefighting crews. “No one knew how until the foundation came about.” Following Storm King, a massive outpouring of support from firefighters and the public raised $108,000 from commemorative T-shirt sales alone. Most of the money was donated to a nonprofit in the East, while $20,000 went to creating the bronze monument in Boise – a “recognition of the sacrifice of all firefighters,” Minor said.But when Minor discovered the organization had not used the profits from the T-shirt sales to assist families, she took charge, and with the help of many others created the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.”Storm King didn’t just happen to those families, Storm King happened to the whole wildland firefighting community,” Minor said. “Without that horrific loss of life in Storm King, this would not have gotten on.”The foundation predominantly targets families whose breadwinner has died and left behind small children, Minor said. A family can receive a grant of up to $5,000 to cover financial and emotional expenses, from medical bills to travel. The foundation recognizes all types of firefighters, including volunteers. Grant recipients are also given a small bronze statue, a replica of the monument in Boise, to honor the fallen or injured firefighters in their families.Since 1999, the foundation has donated $500,000 to families nationwide – with Coloradans giving the most of any other state. “There’s something in the water there,” Minor said, laughing. “People there are so compassionate.”At the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District, several firefighters have donated through the foundation’s 52 Club. Through the club, a member donates $1 a week for 52 weeks, which totals an annual donation of $52 toward providing assistance for firefighting families. Frank Nadell, assistant chief and training officer for the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District, became the club’s first member when he stopped by the foundation office in Boise. Following a crisis such as Storm King, many people, in the firefighting realm and beyond, come together and recognize the risks that firefighters go through to protect forests and homes.”Storm King was like the 9/11 in the wildland world. It was a huge tragedy and a big wakeup call,” Nadell said. The foundation plays an important role in helping families get by financially before the insurance companies are able to step in, said Greg Little, a Storm King 14 committee member that represents the family of Tami Bickett, a Prineville Hotshot who died in the Storm King fire. A network of people looking for support from other families who have endured similar tragedies has also emerged from the foundation’s work.”That’s one of the many positives that came out of Storm King – I think there’s a lot of communication now between families that have lost a loved one,” Little said.The foundation hopes to sell 19,800 Club 52 memberships this year – which would put $1 million toward assisting firefighting families in need. Minor likens the foundation to the lodgepole pine, whose pine cone melts open and releases seeds during the intense heat of a wildfire.”This is a lodgepole pine story,” she said. “The tragedy of that fire burst out this foundation that continues to help firefighters across the country.”For more information on the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, contact Vicki Minor at (208) 336-2996 or visit http://www.wffoundation.org.