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Ventura County

Firefighters Wrap Up Disaster Fund Drive

Charity: Local efforts raise $410,000 for families of comrades killed on Sept. 11.

January 29, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Boots in hand, hundreds of Ventura County firefighters took to the streets last fall to raise money for their comrades who were victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Last week, the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Assn. announced it had brought in almost $410,000 from passing the boot and other efforts, including a bachelor auction and golf tournament.

In one October day, the men and women collected more cash in their boots from passing motorists, $183,000, than from all of the association's charitable drives the past two years.

There were 344 New York City firefighters who died after two planes slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and caused the buildings to collapse. The New York Firefighters 911 Disaster Relief Fund has so far received $128 million, 100% of which will go to the families of firefighters who died.

Firefighters for the cities of Ventura and Oxnard also recently finished their own fund-raising efforts. The Oxnard firefighters union usually collects about $5,000 annually, but has received more than $40,000 since the attacks, said Capt. Bill Gallaher. Firefighters "usually have a hard time asking people for money, but the response from people was overwhelming," he said.

Five firefighters from the city of Ventura have already gone to New York to deliver the $25,000 their co-workers had collected.

Federal law prohibits firefighters working at Naval Base Ventura County from accepting charitable donations, but many participated in events at other fire departments in Ventura County, said Rick Brockman, chief of the base's fire department. Others donated personally to a federal fund set up after the attacks.

Firefighters say they weren't prepared for the overwhelming response from people wanting to help victims' families.

Accustomed to the demands of battling blazes, they were suddenly tracking huge amounts of loose coins and dollar bills, said Capt. Chris Mahon of the Ventura County Fire Department, president of the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Assn.

Automobile trunks were loaded down with sacks of coins and wads of dollar bills, and all that cash made firefighters nervous, Mahon said. "Guys were sweating bullets," recalled Mahon, who works at a fire station in Oak View.

Firefighters had difficulty finding banks in Ventura County that would count the large bounty of coin dollars, quarters, nickels and pennies. But no one lost sight of the goal.

"There was an almost immediate understanding that New York Fire had suffered a huge loss and it would be beyond their means to cope," Mahon said. "It was our desire to help and do whatever we could."

About half of the nearly $410,000 has already been distributed to the New York firefighters relief fund, Mahon said. The rest will be turned over to the fund during a February dinner event in Simi Valley.

Steve Kaufmann, a Thousand Oaks firefighter, had become friends with John Moran, a battalion chief with the New York City Fire Department's special operations unit who died when the towers collapsed.

Kaufmann and other county firefighters will present a check to Moran's brother Mike, also a New York firefighter. "If there was someone to pattern your life after, it would be John. He was a role model," Kaufmann said.

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