Letters To The Wildland Firefighter Community

To all:

The Wildland Firefighter Foundation is not an organization but thousands of individual firefighters, firefighter spouses, firefighter family members, firefighter friends, and those who support the firefighter community who have banded together to ensure that no one is alone in the wake of tragedy.

As a firefighter wife and mother I know firsthand how invaluable the Wildland Firefighter Foundation has been to the wildland firefighter community, especially to the families. The Foundation is the glue that binds us together and our peace of mind if tragedy strikes. We know through the Foundation we have the support we need and that thousands of unknown family members have our back.

As mentioned, I am a firefighter wife and mother. My husband, four children and son-in-law are all wildland firefighters with The United States Forest Service and our family has served continuously for over six decades. With so much of our family involved in wildland firefighting when, a tragedy happens whether it is a firefighter known to us or not, we are all affected.

In a situation such as mine you have two choices. You can either worry every time your spouse or children go to work or you can align yourself with people in similar situations and draw strength from one another. The Foundation has been a constant source of that strength. Through the Foundation and the many activities surrounding the Foundation, I have met countless people who have given me strength with their words, actions, and selfless giving.

One source of strength is the family member who starts each message with “good morning beauties” even when her own family member is fighting a long road back from a serious line of duty injury. Another source is the family of musicians who continue to play-on without the son they love so dearly. Then there are the many memorial runs, fishing tournaments and fundraisers large and small benefiting the Foundation. Many started by individuals who have never received direct help from the Foundation, but individuals who see the value of the Foundation.

As many do, my husband and I are frequent donors to the Foundation. We donate annually via the 52 Club and also when there is a line of duty death or injury. We donate not for any one individual but for the overall good of the Foundation. We know that each line of duty death or injury that the Foundation is involved usually has a price tag. Since the cost varies based on the need we want to make sure that the Foundation has enough resources to assist with the immediate need and still have resources available for ongoing and future needs.

Ongoing and future needs are the most critical need for any organization such as the Foundation. In the wake of tragedy people are usually pretty generous. It is what happens before the general public even knows of what happens that they need to be prepared. My husband is a member of the USFS Honor Guard, so like the Foundation, he is usually one of the first to know of a line of duty death or injury. We have seen the “before the headlines” actions of the Foundation many times.   Many of these actions are resource intense and make the biggest difference for the families. We give even when there is no headline just for this reason.

All losses to the Wildland Firefighter community are tragic. We are blessed to have Vicki, Burk and the Foundation staff as our conduit to help us help our unknown brothers and sisters. Thank you for you continuous and tireless support.

All my best,

-Christina Marie Stanley

Ochoa Family

“Hello, my name is Michelle ochoa, I am the wife of Richard “wally” Ochoa. My life changed with a single phone call on Sept. 21 2014. Our son called to tell me his father had been injured by a silent falling snag. All he could tell me was he is alive and could wiggle his fingers and toes, my only thought was i need to get to him as fast as i could.

I arrived in Bosie after a 7.5 hour drive the following morning to find my husband in ICU. when i walked into his room i was not prepaied for what i was about to see, a badly bruised and very broken man, As he looked at me he smiled and said ” there you are ” all i could say to him was ” here i am “.
A short time later after i was informed of all the injuries i meet this most amazing woman ” Vicki Minnor”, the engery that came from her was amazing i felt calmer , she has showed such compassion and understanding , Vicki was there when i needed a outside person to talk too.  The wildland fire foundation may be small and not well known outside of the fire community , but they come in and help famlies who are going through the worst time in there lives, they stand with you and give you the moral support you need to keep going . With out a doubt these people are the strongest i have ever known , they get up every day not knowing what is coming , and they put there best foot forward and come with a smile on there face and tell you no matter what i am here for you.
i would like to say to all of them thank you for your sacrifice , time and patience , you have been with us when it started and you are still with us .”

-Love from the Ochoa family

Brinkley Family

“Last year 2014 was the 20 th  anniversary of Storm King.  Ken and I had many family members and friends who joined us. Among the friends was Vicki from Wff she was there to give support and caring to the families. The foundation is always there no matter if it is 2 years or 20 years from now.  It was the first time in 20 years that I enjoyed myself being in Glenwood Springs/ Storm King lots of laughter and some tears. Vicki was always at the side of one of the families talking to them giving support and trying to make things enjoyable. Thank you Vicki and the foundation.”

-Ken & Kathy Brinkley

Burke Family

I want people who don’t know me and my family to know how important the Wildland Firefighter Foundation has been in our lives for the last 10 years.  In 2004 my son, Daniel Holmes, was accepted onto the Arrowhead Hotshot crew ( his first hotshot crew) Unfortunately, just before the end of that season, he died while on a prescribed burn, when the burning top of a snag tree broke and fell on him. And that began my long association with Vicki, Burk and the staff @ the WFF.

There were many things that the Foundation did to help us right from the start. They helped by working with the airlines to get last minute tickets from CA (where they were) to NH, where we were, for the entire crew so that they could be with us for his final services. The day of the funeral, they helped provide a lunch for our family and friends, they sent a statue of a wildland firefighter for the service. The whole time people kept telling me that ” the Foundation provided this, the Foundation helped with that” I had NO idea who the Foundation was. But I soon found out when Vicki reached out to me a few days later to help me start the long journey of walking through the grief. Through that first year, she was often on the phone with me “just to talk”, she was available when I called her and she often called me. She tirelessly helped me work through the “red tape” of the government’s PSOB paperwork.

I finally got to meet Vicki and Burk and the office staff in 2005 when they held the first “official” Family Day” in Boise. And I was hooked!! I began to see the work they do with so many families, just like mine, who are overwhelmed, lost, and grieving after the loss of a firefighter, or how they help families when a firefighter is injured on the job. Their love and support are amazing!! I have returned most every year since to try and help at the Family Day event, to support “new” families, to reconnect with families I’ve met over the years as we continue to travel this road. The love and support at these functions is amazing, many deep friendships are born and nurtured because of the Family weekend.

I have, throughout the years, been blessed to have been able to keep in touch with many Arrowhead crew members from 2004 right through to today . In October, we celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the loss of Danny, with members of the 2004 and 2014 crews, many of the other people who were present that day and who have stayed in touch all this time. Vicki was able to come to that celebration, as a friend, as a support person to any who needed her and to finally meet many of the firefighters the WFF helped all those years ago.
I cannot imagine how I would have gotten to where I am today without Vicki, Burk and the work they do so lovingly for a community that much of the country knows little about. I am proud to count them as my friends!

-Dee Burke

Molly – Andy Palmer

When you walk into the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, you can’t help but notice the memories hanging on the wall; snapshots of time, of lives, some far gone and others more recent, but none ever forgotten. The pictures seem to have their own gravitational pull. It is not possible to go in there without studying the faces, pondering who that person was, what they accomplished, and what kind of tragedy occurred to take them from their loved ones.

Among the pictures is a frame containing a young man with an inviting smile, and this quote by Henry Ward Beecher – “Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”

If you knew Andy Palmer, you would understand this quote completely, because he was the human embodiment of those words. Not to say that he was perfect, or to put him on a pedestal; Andy was a man, imperfect, but in no context ordinary.

I met him on our first day of kindergarten, and over the next 15 years of our lives, spent countless hours being best friends, sharing secrets, discovering the world, arguing, growing, and loving each other. Andy was my rock; he was always there when I needed a hug, someone to wipe my tears, a corny joke to bring a smile to my face, or a dose of reality when my thoughts got clouded. He was consistently grounded and dependable for everyone, no matter what they were in need of.

When Andy became a wildland firefighter at the end of our senior year of high school, I was happy for him, he was getting a chance at something he had aspired to do. But I also remember being concerned, because I knew he would be putting himself in danger.

When Andy was called to his first fire, I got a text from him saying that we would have to reschedule the date we had planned because he was being sent to California. He promised we would reschedule when he was back from the job. I told him I understood and to be safe and come home soon. He replied, “of course I will as long as I have a girl like you to come home to”. I told him I love him, and he replied he loved me too.

On July 25, 2008, just a few days after our text exchange, the very day we were supposed to have our first date as a couple instead of best friends, Andy was injured by a falling tree. He sustained injuries that led to his death just a few hours after the incident.

That evening I learned of Andy’s death, and I felt like my world had stopped turning. I didn’t want to believe it could be true, I called his cell phone repeatedly, desperately trying to get him to answer, trying to hear his voice, trying to prove that there was no way that MY ANDY could have been taken. I was lying in the gravel driveway of the summer camp I was working at, screaming and sobbing and begging for it to be wrong. My mom drove me home that night, and for the hour drive I never stopped crying, reciting all my favorite memories of him, of us, telling myself that it wasn’t over.

That was over six years ago now, and some days I still wake up thinking and hoping that it was a bad dream. I have endured a great deal of pain and trudged through every phase of grief imaginable. But throughout these years of difficulty, I have found encouragement, understanding, and a community I consider family, at the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

While writing this, Andy’s mom and I were talking on the phone, and she explained so perfectly that the Wildland Firefighter Foundation caught us. As if we were falling uncontrolled and grasping for something to hold tight to, to find comfort in; then so gently we were scooped up and put into this community where we are perfectly understood, welcomed, and loved.

Each year during fire season, and at family fire weekend, we welcome new members of our family; with tears and heartache because we all know what they are going through. We often say that ours is not a club that we wish any person be qualified to join, but if you have lost a wildland firefighter, there is no place you belong more.

The Wildland Firefighter Foundation is focused on helping firefighters and their families after an injury or death occurs. But what some people don’t realize is that it is not a temporary assistance. The reality is, once the WFF is in your life, they never leave it. It is not as if they come in and do “clean up” right after the fact and then leave you to your own devices to fend for yourself. They are there, from day one, and forevermore. They do not give up, they do not forget you, and they do not let you go through anything alone, ever again.

When I walk into the Wildland firefighter foundation, I can’t help but notice the memories hanging on the wall; snapshots of time, of lives, some far gone and others more recent, but none ever forgotten. No matter how many times I look at them, I still feel the gravitational pull, inviting me to escape into the past, into the stories I have heard about all the wonderful lives that ended too soon. It is not possible to go in their without smiling at the faces, shedding a tear for the loss of such great human beings, pondering what may have been if tragedy hadn’t struck to take them from their loved ones.

I could stand in front of Andy’s picture for hours recounting all the great times we had growing up together. There will never be a day in my life when I stop wishing that Andy’s incident never happened. I think of him and miss him constantly. I know though, no matter my struggles, I will always have a place I belong and can feel comfortable. I cannot fully express the gratitude I have toward the Wildland Firefighter Foundation for that gift.

-Molly Barnes

Krigbaum Family

When a trauma comes knocking at your door and you have unbelievable circumstances to deal with, having the Wildland Firefighter Foundation being there for you and your family is an unbelievable gift of true heart and caring coming from individuals who want to help with all their heart and soul no matter the situation. My name is April Krigbaum and I know first hand about the support the foundation gives to families in such need. My children and I  have been recipients of great caring from the foundation since that tragic day in 2001 when our Kip was taken from us.  Our life has been greatly enriched knowing that at any time we have access to be supported emotionally, and as we heal to also be allowed to support others that go through trauma. Thank you to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation for all you have done and continue to do day in and day out.

-April, Kody and Alexis Krigbaum

Letter

 “If we don’t fight for what we ‘stand for’ with our passionate words and honest actions, do we really ‘stand’ for anything?”
        -Tiffany Madison
Dear Wildland Firefighting Foundation,
I wanted to take a moment to Thank you and the donors that support this foundation, for what you all have done for me and my family in a time of loss. You not only helped me get back to Maine, so I could have the emotional support from family, but you yourselves have also been an emotional pillar for me. You were right by my side from the first day, and are still by my side today. If I need anything or just someone to talk to I know I can call you guys. Its going on 18 months now, and while I seem to be healing, I’m not what I was before. I suppose its given me more of an appreciation for the small things; like a hug, or just being in the company of my mom. Everything about life and this world is precious and valuable and beautiful that we tend to take it for granted until something devastating happens and opens our eyes. I see now what my husband got to see everyday being a wildland firefighter. He died doing what he loved, and in place he loved to be.  I get told a lot “how strong” I’am, and I think  its because I know I will see my husband again someday. I know he would want me LIVE today because tomorrow isn’t promised. So, Yeah, I love more, I laugh harder, and I try to stay positive.
Vicki Minor, You are one of those magical people in this world; you have the power to touch lives in unique ways. You are an amazing person, and I’m glad I’ve had the privilege to know you.
Again, Thank you from the depths of my heart!  Much Love,
-Hiedi Adams