"As firefighters, we show up at the worst of things, but then we pack up and walk away. We don't see the aftermath of the firefighters' funerals," said Bradley. "These kids have to deal with someone who isn't there anymore. To see it through their eyes brought it to a whole new perspective. The first thing I did when I got home was hug my kids who are 23 and 21."
Bradley was grateful for the chance to be a Big Buddy. He did not expect it to be so profound and felt it was a special place for everyone. He hopes to be a Buddy at the Hal Bruno Camp for Children of Fallen Firefighters - and maybe another Comfort Zone Camp - next year.
According to Holmes, the camp helped her daughter become comfortable talking about her dad's death. "It was the first time Lexi was able to say out loud 'My daddy died,'" said Holmes. "Her grandparents noticed two weeks later that she had opened up even more. Now she's willing to talk about her dad and how she feels about him not being here anymore," she said.
Lexi is looking forward to going to the Hal Bruno Camp for Children of Fallen Firefighters next summer. "I liked the Monkey Bridge and bonfire and making s'mores," she said. "I just wish it could last longer."
Hal Bruno's Legacy
The Hal Bruno Camp for Children of Fallen Firefighters honors the memory of Hal Bruno, the late Chairman Emeritus of the NFFF's Board of Directors. His priority as Chairman was to ensure the survivors of the fallen received the help they needed to pick up the pieces and begin rebuilding their lives.
"Hal was wholly dedicated to helping the survivors find the support and comfort they need as they rebuild their lives following the death of their firefighter," said Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the NFFF. "For the Foundation to offer a fun and therapeutic camp just for the children of the fallen would make him very proud. This will be a wonderful legacy."
The Foundation covers the costs for all the campers as well as the lodging and local travel expenses for the parents. "We wanted to be certain that any children who want to take part in this valuable weekend will have that opportunity," said Hurley. "We are very grateful that a bequest from the Bruno family enabled us to offer the camp."
Other support for the camp is provided by a grant from the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance and a donation from State Farm.
"Collaborating with NFFF is a huge step for our organization. If there were more organizations willing to do this there would be many more kids growing up with a healthy perspective on grief, on communication and healing," said Shrock. "It was very forward thinking on Hal Bruno's part that one life can affect so many others."
For more information about the Hal Bruno Camp for Children of Fallen Firefighters and other Foundation programs, please visit www.FireHero.org or contact Linda Hurley at email@example.com.
MOLLY NATCHIPOLSKY is a writer with theNational Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Before joining the Foundation she worked in public relations and communication for several non-profit organizations including the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the International Food Information Council and the American Red Cross.