The NFFF & 9/11: National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Changes Role To Assist FDNY

Charles Werner reports on the ways in which the foundation answered the FDNY’s call for help following 9/11.In 1992, Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to lead a nationwide effort to honor America's fallen...


Charles Werner reports on the ways in which the foundation answered the FDNY’s call for help following 9/11.In 1992, Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to lead a nationwide effort to honor America's fallen firefighters. The foundation plans an annual memorial...


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Charles Werner reports on the ways in which the foundation answered the FDNY’s call for help following 9/11.In 1992, Congress created the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to lead a nationwide effort to honor America's fallen firefighters. The foundation plans an annual memorial service and offers support programs.

Immediately following the 9/11 tragedy, the NFFF offered its services to the New York City Fire Department. In the past, the FDNY might have declined such outside assistance, but the magnitude of this event was such that the department embraced the NFFF's offer of assistance.

According to NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki, the role of the organization changed based on the needs and assistance requested by the FDNY. "We were asked to provide immediate intervention to families and members of the FDNY," Siarnicki said. "We had never been involved in crisis management before 9/11."

The NFFF worked closely with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA) to get in contact with over 300 FDNY family members. This new partnership utilized the NFFF to help coordinate efforts by the FDNY Counseling Services Unit (CSU) to provide critical incident stress services at ground zero, at firehouses, and at family services on boats that transported families to and from ground zero.

The partnership expanded even more by working with the Federation of Fire Service Chaplains and the Archdiocese of New York. This involved activities with counseling teams, which consisted of members from the union delegation, chaplains and peer counselors from across the nation. These teams were visible at ground zero and are noted for their contributions toward helping the department recover.

Battalion Chief Mike O'Keefe, executive officer of the CSU, said, "The NFFF is always only a cell phone call away - one call to Ron Siarnicki and we have whatever we need." O'Keefe noted that he could not imagine how the unit's members would have done what they did without this support.

"The NFFF has helped us in so many ways," he said. "They have provided invaluable training to our peer counselors, helped to coordinate and support our family liaisons, provided logistical support outside the normal areas of counseling services, supplied funding for 'The Link,' which is a survivor newsletter for the family members of fallen firefighters, and much more. Their staff is so dedicated and they have so much experience supporting families."

Siarnicki, Mary Ellis and the staff at the NFFF are credited for their organizational talents that enhanced the CSU's ability to do mailings, provide logistical support to counseling teams (consisting of over 400 people), visit each of the 211 firehouses at least once and train counselors. The NFFF also purchased three vehicles that are being used to facilitate transportation needs for those that need counseling.

"I hope that this article will provide the thanks and recognition that the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation so richly deserves," O'Keefe said.

Siarnicki advised that the organization's representatives have now traveled through previously uncharted waters and with this tragedy there had been nearly a 400% increase in the number of survivors of fallen firefighters who need support. Siarnicki recognized his staff and said, "It has been stressful and the workload tremendous, but the NFFF staff really rallied and reached to outside resources like the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters), IAFC (International Association of Fire Chiefs), clinicians and chaplains from the Federation of Fire Service Chaplains. They have truly kept the ship afloat. I am so proud of them."

The foundation found it necessary to divide its staff between the responsibilities of its annual memorial service and support to FDNY. Future plans involve a review of the foundation's operations, development of a strategic plan, establishment of goals to make the organization better and to secure future funding to enable it to meets its goals.

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