California Firefighter Funds Get 'Outpouring Of Support'

A week after a Novato firefighter was killed and a fire captain severely burned battling wildfires in San Diego County, the Bank of Marin has received $138,000 in contributions to funds bearing their names.

The bank's Novato branch established two funds last Thursday, the day after the tragedy, to benefit the families of both men.

The Steven Rucker Family Fund has received about $102,000 and the Doug McDonald Fund has about $36,000, according to Novato Fire Protection District Chief Jeff Meston.

"We are deeply humbled by the public response to the needs of both families and as a fire organization appreciate everything the public is doing for us," Meston said.

Branch manager Peter Pelham said the bank has received an average of 100 letters daily since the accounts were opened, with contributions ranging from as little as a couple of dollars to at least one check for $20,000.

"There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from all over the United States and a lot from people of Southern California who had their homes saved and appreciate what the firefighters have done for them," Pelham said. "We have received emotional cards and heartfelt messages, even from little kids, expressing sympathy."

Rucker, an 11-year veteran of the Novato Fire Protection District, was killed last Wednesday fighting the Cedar Fire near Wynola. He lived in Novato and is survived by his wife and two children. He was 38.

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Veterans' Auditorium at the Marin County Civic Center.

McDonald, 48, is a captain who has been with the district for 17 years. He suffered burns over 27 percent of his body and is in critical condition at the University of California at San Diego, Medical Center regional burn unit. He lives in Novato with his wife and two children.

Firefighters Shawn Kreps, 35, and Barrett Smith, 28, were treated for minor injuries and released.

On Monday alone, the bank received 500 envelopes and a flood of phones calls asking how to contribute.

"We have had extra employees at the branch just to deal with the phone calls and to open the envelopes," Pelham said. "The cards have been delivered to the fire department and we have given the widow a copy of all checks so she knows who donated what."

Other Marin organizations set up funds, including the Marin Community Foundation, which re-opened its Emergency Response Fund last Thursday and has raised more than $5,000. The fund was used after Sept. 11 but had been dormant since then, said foundation president and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Peters. The funds will support recovery efforts of people in San Diego, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties who suffered losses in the fires.

"We know from disasters in other areas that individuals and families have both physical and emotional needs that are not covered in any way by FEMA or insurance (and) that is where this private philanthropy can be extraordinarily helpful," Peters said.