The Wildland Firefighter Foundation
Story by Amanda Bernamonti
Photography By Rase Littlefield
Wildland Firefighters are the unsung heroes of our community. They protect our public lands from raging wildfires. Wildland firefighters are truly family which makes the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (WFF) an integral part of the wildland firefighter community. Founded in 1994, the WFF takes care of firefighters with serious injuries and families of fallen heroes. The number one priority of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation is to help families of wildland firefighters killed in the line of duty and to assist injured wildland firefighters and their families.
“Over the years we have developed many programs that ensure Wildland Firefighters and their families are honored and never forgotten.” Says Burk Minor, Outreach Director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. From humble beginnings in a kitchen to now, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation has revolutionized the care of our Wildland Firefighters. Helping thousands of families nationwide, the WFF works closely with federal, state, local, county and private firefighting agencies. Nationwide, they work with burn centers to ensure that proper care is given to these brave individuals.
I had the opportunity to speak with Katy O’Hara regarding her experience and the way that the foundation helped her family through a very difficult time. “My husband David Gray and I are both wildland firefighters. David was starting his 17th fire season as an Assistant Engine Operator with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Baker City, Oregon when he was killed in a drunk driving accident in eastern Oregon (April 22, 2018). The nature of the accident and some of the information leading up to the accident are probably more for another day, but it does play a role in why I am okay speaking out about the support we have received from the Foundation and speak on behalf of other families”, she said. A trauma counselor was with Katy and her family within hours to help support them, “Between the Agency, the WFF and the wildland firefighting community, arrangements were made for David’s family to come from around the country and have lodging and meals. The kids were not forgotten either. “6-foot-tall giant Teddy Bears [were] delivered to each of my three kids which put a smile on their faces.” Katy also spoke of the mental health crisis among our Nation’s first responders, including wildland firefighters. The numbers are staggering and it is especially unclear within this smaller firefighting community.”
As a nonprofit organization, community involvement is vital. Burk states that, “We would jump on the opportunity to be invited to speak or comment at business functions to incorporate community fundraisers in order to support our Wildland Firefighters. We offer tours and would love more visitors to stop by our office. The faces on the wall on their own tell the story behind the job hazards of being a Wildland Firefighter.” The Wildland Firefighter Foundation website provides a variety of information from upcoming fundraisers as well as an opportunity to donate, join the 52 club, view the Fallen, purchase WFF items and view the programs available to the firefighters and their families. If you are a corporation and would like to partner or form a sponsorship, please contact Burk.
You can see the mark that this amazing foundation has left on Idaho through the nine-foot-tall bronze wildland firefighter statue that is located at the Boise Airport. This statue is to honor all wildland firefighters past, present, and future. Burk said that, “The WFF has worked tirelessly to help install and maintain a national fallen wildland firefighter monument: the only one of its’ kind at the National Interagency Fire Center here in Boise. We are also proud members of the Boise City Chamber of Commerce.” In additional to all of this, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation works with congress to make sure that the firefighters “get a fair shake”.
Katy sums it up beautifully, “The key here is that the foundation makes sure that we know we are not alone in this journey, that we are continuously surrounded by our Fire Family for support, comfort, and care when needed.”