Keeping the Promise: The Fireman’s Fund Re-ignited

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You never know where a simple telephone call may lead. In February 2004, I received a very interesting and, at the time, somewhat vague call. As I answered the telephone with my official title and “business voice,” the gentleman on the other end introduced himself. The opening few minutes of the call went something like this: “I am Darryl Siry of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. and I would like to set up an appointment to meet with you, Chief. We are establishing a benevolent program entitled Heritage Fund, whereby we will be making sizeable donations to fire service agencies across America.”

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, but being very skeptical about the sincerity and true value of such an open-ended offer, I agreed to meet with him and one of his colleagues. Boy, what a marvelous surprise was in store for the American fire-rescue service that will continue to provide mission-critical resources for many, many years. The Fireman’s Fund Heritage Program delivered big in its first year and promises even more support to our agencies in years to come.

Fireman’s Fund was founded in 1863 in San Francisco with a mission to pay 10% of its profits to widows and orphans of firefighters. At that time, catastrophic fires were commonplace. In the wake of such devastating fires, there was financial loss of huge proportions. It was the era when “fire marks” were displayed on insured buildings to provide a monetary incentive for local fire companies to work a little harder to put the fires out quickly in order to limit the damage.

During these all-out firefights, it was not uncommon for members to lose life and limb while protecting lives and property. Sounds like today, but there were no controls such as the incident management system or rapid intervention teams to protect our forefathers. Once they were killed or injured, there was little or no support offered to the surviving family members. In a true effort to provide for the care and support of firefighters’ families, Fireman’s Fund Insurance established a trust fund (perhaps the very first one) to help with the financial burden of a line-of-duty death or injury of a firefighter.

As time marches on, change is inevitable. Fireman’s Fund moved away from its original promise to help firefighters. With programs like Social Security and the Public Safety Officers Death Benefit, it was easy for the company to lose sight of its pledge to help us. To emphasize the different direction that the company had taken by the 1980s, Firemen’s Fund sponsored the Major League Baseball “Relief Pitcher of the Year” award. It was quite a nice award for the American League and National League relievers who posted the best “save” records. The trophy was a silver Cairns “Senator” replica helmet atop a wooden stand; very nice, but of no help to America’s true heroes, the fire-rescue service.

The company reorganized a few years ago, identifying and hiring an entirely new executive team. At the “helm” is a true friend of the fire service, Chuck Kavitsky, the CEO. The “turnaround” team quickly realized that the promise that the company was founded upon must be upheld. Another reason why Fireman’s Fund has restated its commitment to the fire-rescue service is the background of the chief operating officer, Joe Beneducci. He is the son of a New York City firefighter. When you talk to Joe, he will quickly tell you about his dad and the days he spent growing up in the local firehouse. When I think about my friend Joe, I associate the two Fireman’s Fund mottoes – “Play to Win” and “Honor the Promise.”

The Fireman’s Fund Heritage Program was launched in the spring of 2004. Three major cities were identified to breathe life into and be the test sites for this effort. Of the three cities, metro Atlanta was selected as the recipient area; hence, my meeting with Darryl Siry. He asked me to identify significant additional or specialized equipment that Atlanta Fire-Rescue might need. The only difficulty with fulfilling his request was prioritizing our tremendous needs.

After a few days of discussions with our staff and member associations (IAFF Local 134 and Atlanta’s Brothers Combined Inc.), the decision was made to request thermal imaging cameras (TICs). Prior to the Fireman’s Fund donation, Atlanta had only two thermal imaging cameras divided among 34 fire stations. Not a very effective or workable arrangement to provide this mission-critical technology at emergency incidents. When Darryl asked for my “wish list,” I requested a TIC for each ladder (truck) company, which would require a total of 14 cameras.

Atlanta Fire-Rescue received all of the machines that we asked for, which just about guarantees that two cameras will arrive on every structural fire scene. Two ladders are dispatched on the initial alarm and upon transmitting “working fire,” a third ladder truck is sent. The initial action plan (IAP) strives to place a TIC inside the structure with the primary search team and the second camera helps to outfit the rapid intervention team. Only through the kindness of the Fireman’s Fund are we able to have this quantity and quality of equipment.

There is yet a second component of the Heritage Program. Fireman’s Fund agents and affiliates are committed to providing volunteer help to support fire service programs. In Atlanta’s case, we asked for and have received help with the staffing of our “Atlanta Smoke Alarm Program” (ASAP). On the second Saturday of every month, we hit the streets installing, checking and maintaining residential smoke detectors. Seven fire companies merge into one geographical area to provide this service. All companies remain in service during an ASAP “blitz” day. For the program to work effectively, we attempt to get at least 14 community volunteers (two per company) to help. We can always count on Fireman’s Fund to provide the volunteer staff that we need. In fact, once the members of the Atlanta-based team came out for their first community-based experience, they were willing to fund the cost of the detectors for the year.

The Atlanta metro area was awarded over $500,000 for the 2004 ASAP program. This money touched 16 fire departments as well as the Georgia State Fire Marshal’s Office. One of the grantees turned a portion of its funds back into the company, which was just enough to fund our “ASAP” Program for 2005.

To ensure that every fire department in America receives some direct benefit of its kindness, Fireman’s Fund granted the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) $250,000 to develop and implement a near-miss accident-avoidance program. Chief John Tippett of the IAFC staff heads this program.

“The IAFC near-miss initiative will, without question, save firefighters’ lives,” he said. “The Fireman’s Fund Heritage grant was just what the near-miss program needed to have a national or perhaps, a worldwide positive impact on firefighter safety.”

To check on the status of the Heritage Program in your community or to learn more about it and get it started in your hometown, or click on www.FFIC.com/heritage.

Dennis Rubin and John DiBacco will present “Interstate: Immediate Danger to Life and Health?” at Firehouse Expo 2005, July 26-31 in Baltimore.


Dennis L. Rubin, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is chief of the Atlanta Fire Department. Previously, he was city manager and public safety director for the City of Dothan, AL. Rubin is a 31-year fire-rescue veteran, serving in many capacities and with several departments. He holds an associate’s degree in fire science from Northern Virginia Community College and a bachelor’s degree in fire science from the University of Maryland, and is enrolled in the Oklahoma State University Graduate School Fire Administration Program. Rubin is a 1993 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and holds the national Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) certification and the Chief Fire Officer Designation (CFOD) from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He serves on several IAFC committees, including a two-year term as the Health and Safety Committee chair. Rubin can be reached at Firerube@aol.com.

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