A Firefighter's Crusade

PATRICK Walsh has big dreams. He leads the Firefighters Save-A-Life Fund, a not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to ensuring every fire department in America has at least one thermal imaging camera. To accomplish its mission, the fund is trying to raise $250 million however it can.

"It's slow to start. We could've picked a worse time to try to start this up, but I can't think of one," Walsh admitted during a recent call from Modesto, Calif. (where his real job is owning a copier and office equipment repair company). "Everybody's supportive, but no one has any money."

Walsh, his wife, his fund's directors, and their supporters are applying for grants, organizing fund-raisers, and accepting volunteer help and in-kind donations. While just $1,400 in cash had been raised at the time we talked--a thermal camera costs about $5,500--he hoped the fund could join United Way's payroll deduction plan in the area, and it had commitments for grants or matching funds from local Wal-Mart stores. Not bad, but a far cry from $250 million.

A volunteer firefighter for 30 years, Walsh said his motivation is more personal than professional: He's crusading for thermal cameras because two volunteer firefighters died together in a fire March 15, 1993, when a floor suddenly collapsed beneath them. Friends of his family, victims John F. Lombardo, 26, of the Pittston (Pa.) Fire Department and Leonard Insalaco II, 20, of the West Pittston Fire Department wouldn't have died that day if they had been able to see hidden hot spots with one of the devices. Walsh said their deaths hit him hard. "It irks me for people to die for stupid reasons. It's just wrong for somebody to die for $5,000," he added.

Because of 9/11, we Americans are much more aware of the sacrifices firefighters and other emergency workers make for our safety. Hundreds of departments today get federal money to buy new equipment or provide training. But the Firefighters Save-A-Life Fund is the only campaign trying to equip the nation's entire fire service with this lifesaving technology, Walsh said.

To help in its fund-raising efforts, call 209-523-8579, e-mail FFSALF@aol.com, or visit www.fsalf.org. I wish them well.

This article originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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