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Countywide : Fire Officials Warn About Solicitations

March 12, 1994|AILEEN CHO

For the second time in three years, the Garden Grove Fire Department has issued a statement disavowing telephone solicitors seeking donations for disabled Garden Grove firefighters.

Fire Capt. Bill Dumas said the department felt compelled to issue a statement warning the public about misleading phone solicitations after receiving a rash of public inquiries.

He said that other fire departments, including those in Anaheim, Newport Beach, Fullerton and Orange, have complained about similar problems in recent years.

"We've been receiving a number of complaints and inquiries throughout the last two or three weeks, and a severe increase in the last 10 days," said Dumas. "We're getting at least two or three a day, up to 15 a week."

Dumas said people have complained about callers who became abusive or threatening, or who falsely led them to believe that the solicitation was being made on behalf of the Garden Grove department.

Dumas said that about 80% of the calls to his department involved solicitations apparently made by the Foundation for Disabled Firefighters, a registered nonprofit organization.

Michael Kowalsky, president of the foundation, said it occasionally encounters such reaction from fire departments and that their complaints are baseless.

"We have been in existence since 1986. We're bona fide, registered with the state. We've had problems with one or two fire departments who don't like it because we help firefighters that they won't," he said. The foundation raises about $25,000 to $30,000 a year, according to Kowalsky.

The foundation was established by now-deceased firefighter Robert Greenwell in 1986, and is a state-registered nonprofit charity organization affiliated with United Liberty Productions in Garden Grove.

"It was founded purely with the interest of helping disabled firefighters and their families," said a United Liberty Productions official who declined to be named. "It doesn't call in the name of anybody but its own."

But Dumas said that the people who have called the department claimed the foundation does use names of local fire departments to mislead them. "I can't imagine that many people could be wrong," he said.

The United Liberty Productions official said the names of individual firefighters who received money raised by them were confidential.

But the official showed letters from the Orange County Burn Assn. in 1990, the San Clemente Firemen's Assn. in 1989 and the UC San Diego Regional Burn Center in 1990 thanking the foundation for donations.

Dumas added: "We're not denying they don't have all the necessary paperwork. . . . We're (complaining about) . . . their tactics and process of solicitation."

Richard Chavez, president of the Anaheim Firefighters Assn., said the group caused the same flurry of complaints last year in Anaheim. "We've had some difficult experiences with this," he said. "It's been really frustrating."

In 1992, the Newport Beach firefighters union along with Fullerton and Orange fire departments distanced themselves from a variety show the foundation was organizing as a fund raiser.

The United Liberty Productions official denied that the foundation has ever attempted to raise funds inappropriately, and suggested the Garden Grove department did not want the foundation competing with its own fund-raising efforts.

But Dumas said, "These people are capitalizing on our reputation."

He, Chavez and other fire department officials encouraged the public to call the fire department whose name is used in any phone solicitation.

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