Editor’s note: This column was originally published in the November 2001 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada.
In London, Ont., The Fallen Heroes Fund was the brainchild of Mindy Williamson, a morning personality on FM96 radio. She was frustrated, as was everyone at London Fire Services, by the inclination and energy to help in the aftermath of Sept. 11, but little opportunity to do so. She proposed a radio fundraiser.
When she first pitched the idea to station management, Mindy thought it would be an initiative of the one station only. After enlisting the assistance of the London Professional Fire Fighters Association and Fire Services itself, the idea blossomed. The entire Corus Radio group in London banded together to reach the widest possible audience.
That meant four of London’s commercial radio stations were solidly behind the effort. Television and the local daily newspaper were soon on board.
A one-week blitz began Monday, Sept. 17, with a simultaneous broadcast on the radio stations. The morning hosts interviewed Fire Chief Dave Hodgins and LPFFA President Brian George. Then, everybody hit the streets.
In-service fire crews, along with radio promotional staff, set up outside downtown office buildings and suburban shopping malls. Requests started to roll in almost immediately from people who wanted to help by organizing events where donations could be collected. An indication of things to come was an impromptu lunch-hour boot toll on the first day.
Firefighters in surrounding communities also joined in, widening the collection area. A goal hadn’t really been discussed and a radio staffer threw out $100,000 as a reasonable expectation. Little did anyone know just how responsive their community could be.
The International Association of Fire Fighters had set up the New York Firefighters 9-11 Disaster Relief Fund. It was identified as the recipient of the funds raised in the London area. Families of the firefighters and other emergency personnel killed in the terror attack on the World Trade Center would be the beneficiaries of the monies donated to The Fallen Heroes Fund.
As the week went on, there were astounding outpourings of generosity. All the pent-up frustration and impotence people felt flowed in the form of dollars into firefighters’ boots. Small children from a local childcare centre came to fire headquarters with a toy fire helmet overflowing with cash. People came into London’s fire halls carrying their hard-earned money and gladly parted with it. Firefighters remarked on seeing people, who seemed to ill afford it, making donations. Others cut $500 cheques without batting an eyelash. Keep in mind that tax receipts were not available because the money was going south of the border.
Firefighters were hugged and many people had tears in their eyes as they conveyed their feelings about the tragedy. Many vowed never to take their emergency protectors for granted. The images of the stalwarts in New York hurrying into the terrorist-spawned nightmare, as civilians fled from it, were indelibly etched in people’s hearts and minds.
The money came in so quickly, the original goal was soon abandoned but for the purposes of the radio stations, a deadline for the blitz was set. A tally after the Sunday midnight deadline came in at a shade more than $250,000.
As of this writing (Oct. 19, 2001), the fund has $354,000 and donations are still being received. The Fallen Heroes Fund is a remarkable testimonial to the fact that altruism is alive and well in the London area.
Rick Jefferson was with the London, Ont., fire service in 2001.
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