Rural Volunteer Firefighters Grateful for Fla. Woman's Generosity

July 12, 2013
The retired clerk has handed out tens of thousands of dollars to departments she's never visited until she shows up with checkbook in hand.

July 12--Former Lighthouse Point City Clerk Carol Landau saved all her life so she could retire and travel the country, but now she's giving that money away.

Not to anybody she knows, but to volunteer fire departments in places she'd never been until she arrived in her motor home and knocked on their doors with a checkbook in hand.

She began donating this year after being diagnosed as terminally ill, giving some of the rural departments more money than they receive in their paltry annual budgets. She has paid for needed equipment and protective gear, well aware of the underfunded but life-saving work the volunteers do.

"We've been fighting for years to get anything we could," said Chief Kevin Altman of the Odum, Ga., volunteer department, who received an $11,200 check that exceeded his $9,800 annual budget. "Most of the stuff we get is hand-me-downs."

Altman and nine other southeast Georgia firefighters drove to Deerfield Beach this week to thank the sight-seeing tourist who became an out-of-the-blue godsend.

"We consider her an angel to us, and that's my whole community," said Chief Richard Truman of the volunteer fire department in Ludowici, Ga., "a one-red-light town with about 14,000 people."

The visitors received checks from Landau and let her know the difference she was making. For her, it was an emotional reinforcement that she was doing the right thing.

"It's because I worked for small cities and know about budget cuts," said Landau, who also had jobs in communities in Texas before coming to Florida. "It's not ending here. All my money when I die is going to charity."

Landau, 62, has given away tens of thousands of dollars to more than a dozen small departments and other groups since April, and she said she plans to give away thousands more. She hopes her actions will lead others to help struggling volunteer departments across the country.

Her doctor has told her she might not survive the year, but Landau said her savings won't go dry if she happens to have more years left than expected. A cancer survivor, Landau said she has growing inoperable tumors affecting her abdominal organs.

She has a mom and two siblings living, but no children. Florence Landau, 81, of Century Village East, is happy seeing the satisfaction her daughter is getting from helping firefighters.

"This is how Carol grew up, knowing that her mother and father volunteered for everything," her mom said. "She's had a life of being sick. ... I feel nobody dies one minute before God wants them."

Landau retired two years ago with continuing health problems -- a year-and-a-half before she was eligible to receive Social Security benefits -- because she didn't want to wait any longer before hitting the road in her American Cruiser motor home. During that time, she made separate trips to Washington, Texas and New Mexico as her health worsened.

Her recent spate of giving began during a curtailed trip to Tennessee in April, when she stopped in Inman, S.C., to have a mechanic investigate her glowing check-engine light. While there, she sought out the local volunteer fire chief and paid for a water tank for a stripped-down truck his crews were using. She followed up with checks for a homeless shelter and for four other area volunteer departments.

"I want it to go where it will do good for people for years to come," Landau said. "Years ago, I decided I wanted my epitaph to be: My life made a positive difference."

She traveled the back roads on her return to Florida, looking for other volunteer fire departments she could help.

An open fire truck bay in Ludowici provided the invitation she needed. She left her number and the police chief called her back, leading to a $6,000 donation for the city's library, police and firefighters. She made an offer of additional help for other area volunteer departments and made good on that promise this week.

Altman teared up when receiving his check for firefighter gear and nozzles. He said it was a tremendous boost for a department that occasionally sees $20 or $30 donations and has fundraisers that "only make about $1,000 if we're lucky."

A similar check will buy six sets of gear for the Madray Springs, Ga., volunteer department. Chief Ashley Dent said the department had a fatal home fire last year involving a young boy.

"Our first five minutes on the scene, I had six guys there and I only had two with turnout gear," Dent said. He couldn't send the two in right away because none of the others could back them up, he said.

Dent and most of the other Georgia visitors arrived in Deerfield Beach in a borrowed church van. JB's on the Beach gave the group a free lunch, and the visitors gave Landau a signed fire helmet to show their appreciation.

The chiefs also had Landau sign their helmets so they would carry her with them in their work.

"From the first night I talked to her, she was talking about mailing [the checks] to us," Dent said. "I said, 'No way. We're making a trip.'"

[email protected] or 954-356-4556

Carol's travel blog

Read about Carol Landau's travel adventures and the people she has met on her blog,

She is not accepting solicitations for donations, but relying on the network of chiefs she has made for advice on future giving.

Copyright 2013 - Sun Sentinel

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