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.
In the first days following 9/11, Siarnicki set up a temporary office, spent nine weeks in New York City and stayed in constant communication with both the FDNY and NFFF. While Siarnicki was coordinating the organization's involvement in New York, Ellis coordinated efforts at the National Fire Academy office in Emmitsburg, MD. Later, others helped to fill in for Siarnicki as the NFFF liaison in New York. At the time of this writing, Vinny Brennan (FDNY, retired) serves as the vital link between the NFFF and FDNY. Others that played key roles were Charlie Dickinson (FEMA/USAF), Larry Curl (IAFC), Neil Schreck (Prince George's County, MD, Fire EMS, retired), and Patrick Morrison and William MacKay (both of Fairfax County, VA, Fire/Rescue).
Each year, the NFFF holds a memorial service to honor the nation's fallen heroes. This year, NFFF Chairman Hal Bruno said, "The unprecedented number of firefighters being honored this year will necessitate our moving the memorial service from the site of the National Fallen Firefighters Monument in Emmitsburg. The loss of every firefighter is a national tragedy and this year's service will honor those who died at the World Trade Center along with those who made the ultimate sacrifice across the country."
Siarnicki advised that because the large number of attendees expected this year, the memorial service could not be accommodated in Emmitsburg, so it will be held at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., a large indoor facility that accommodates 20,000 people. He acknowledged that even this large venue may not be sufficient to seat the numbers of firefighters who may wish to attend the service, so the NFFF is exploring many options to provide satellite facilities to broadcast and provide remote viewing of the ceremony.
"There was a lot of discussion about an outdoor facility with larger seating capacity, but the weather was too unpredictable," Siarnicki said. "We want the family members of fallen firefighters to be comfortable. The MCI Center has been very accommodating to our needs by providing amenities and reducing fees to the foundation."
To assure that assigned seating is available for families of fallen firefighters, tickets will be required, but there will be no charge. No further information was available at presstime regarding the ticketing process.
Due to the size of this year's memorial service, it is projected that the costs will exceed $3 million. The foundation is looking for individual and corporate donations to help cover this year's events. Major donors for the 2002 Memorial Weekend include the Fire Chiefs' Association of Florida, W.S. Darley & Company, Munich-American Risk Partners, the U.S. Fire Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice. Anyone wishing to contribute can do so through the donation site on the foundation's website, www.firehero.org.
The NFFF will release additional details on the memorial service and related events as soon as the plans are finalized. For more information contact the foundation at (301) 447-1365, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.firehero.org.
Among other activities, the foundation has received federal and state approval for relocation and completion of its Walk of Honor, installed new sections of inscribed bricks, expanded its website, finalized the design for a visitor information center and continued to support its scholarship programs.
Charles Werner, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and currently holds the position of deputy chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. He also serves as TechZone editor for Firehouse.com, chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Communications/Technology Advisory Group, technology chair for the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association, Communications Director and webmaster for the National Fire Academy Alumni Association. Werner can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.