Firefighters making a difference in people’s lives after the flames are out
I believe that giving and kindness are both contagious and prolific. Once you give back, it’s difficult to stop. To prove my point, I present the Chandler Firefighter Charities (CFC), a nonprofit organization founded by people who already give, risk and sacrifice on a daily basis.
Before the CFC was founded, it was common for Chandler firefighters to pull money from their pockets to help people after the immediate crisis was handled. These firefighters stepped into the lives of strangers, on a day that could easily be considered their worst; yet saving a life or extinguishing the flames, just wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to do more. Even if all they could do was give someone enough cash to buy a nightgown to sleep in when they lost all their clothes, or buy a meal when they no longer had a kitchen table to sit at.
In 1994, Tom Carlson, who is now assistant chief for Chandler Fire, Health & Medical, witnessed the frequent giving taking place and decided it was time to start the CFC, so that they could raise funding and better help the people they came across.
REACHING THOSE IN NEED
“With our ten stations, at least once a week we hear about someone in need,” says Jeff West, captain paramedic for the fire department and the president of the CFC.
One story West likes to share when explaining the work of the CFC is about a man they came across during an emergency call. Hewas living out of his car. The car broke down while on his way to work and needed a lot of repairs, so the firefighters gave him money to get his car fixed so he could continue to get to and from work.
They’ve been known to help people keep their electricity on or put food on the table. But also, they give more than just cash, they give of their time.
“On one of our calls, we met a single mom who had a son who was restricted to a wheelchair. She had been lifting him up and down the stairs by herself. So on a day-off, one of the crews who had been responding to her house, went by and built her a wheel chair ramp,” says West.
Some of the people that they help were encountered on a call, while others are referrals from their crisis team. They send out this team for various reasons, often it’s because of a drowning or because someone passed away.
“Sometimes people hit rock bottom and need some help,” says West. “We have even helped some of our City employees. One specifically was battling cancer, and sometimes even a small thing like money to help put fuel in the car makes a difference”
The firefighters have 48-hour shifts, and most of the work they do for the CFC is done when they are off-duty.
FILLING THE COFFERS
While there are only six members on the board, everyone pitches in, in some way.
“Most of our funds come from donations,” says West. “Annually we have a work place giving campaign and the firefighters, and many city employees, donate. We also have an annual golf tournament, and have sold t-shirts and hats to raise money.”
They offer a CPR program, taught by the firefighters themselves, in which all of the class fees go directly to the CFC. There are classes geared towards babysitters, but also medical providers who need certification cards for their line of work.
They receive a lot of community support to keep their coffers full as well.
“The businesses have been really helpful and people do reach out. Sting Ray Sushi in Chandler did a donation booth for us during their grand opening, and Walmart just gave us a $2,500 grant to assist with first aid supplies,” says West.
While the firefighters do their best to come up with creative fundraising ideas, like their ride-a-longs and chili cook-off, they would like to expand their fundraising strategies to one day include a gala or evening dinner event.
“We appreciate the community looking out for each other and involving us when we can help. We are part of the community and there’s a firehouse near every neighborhood. We are the problem solvers,” says West.
Each firetruck sent out to a Chandler emergency has four firefighters onboard. Two of them are paramedics, and two are emergency medical technicians. And most likely, all four of them contribute to the CFC, keeping an eye out for how else they can help.
Follow the CFC through their Facebook page at Chandler Firefighter Charities, and connect with them via email at ChandlerFirefighters@gmail.com. Donations, in the form of cash or check, can be sent to: Chandler Firefighter Charities, 151 E. Boston St., Chandler, AZ 85225.