After a woman in the Fire Marshal’s Office was in need of a kidney transplant in 2009, the Parker County Firefighter Benevolent Fund was established to support those who put their lives on the line for the community.
“We had a Parker County firefighter who was willing to give her his kidney and so we started as just a few people coming together with a barbecue fundraiser, but during the process we realized we didn’t just need to help these two people, we needed to help every family in the fire service that we could,” Weatherford Firefighter and Paramedic Michael Baldwin said. “So right after that fundraiser we got our 501(c)(3) to become a nonprofit and went from there.”
Baldwin said the firefighter benevolent fund serves all departments in the county as well as the Fire Marshal’s Office, but they like to keep the names of those they’ve helped confidential.
“We’re here for the people who can’t support their families. We have more career firefighters in Parker County now than when we first started 10 years ago, but we still rely heavily on volunteers and some of those men and women have multiple part time jobs and may not have insurance,” Baldwin said. “We had a firefighter injure his back and couldn’t provide for his family, so we made sure that there was food on the table and the bills were paid. So that’s kind of our mission.”
Jeff O’Neal, a firefighter with Emergency Services District 9, said there’s an application process for those in need of help from the organization.
“There’s an application process that either the individual that’s seeking funds or help will fill out, or somebody on their behalf. We had a fire chief that submitted one on behalf of one of his firefighters that was too proud to ask for help himself,” O’Neal said. “We go through the applications and just try to give a good initial amount to get them through until another funding source comes in. We will support them as long as we can.”
As for fundraising efforts, Baldwin said they’ve done the barbecue cook-offs, golf tournaments and gun raffles, as well as other events.
“We did the barbecue cook-off and did that for about four years, but on our end it was super hard trying to organize that large of an event with just a handful of us. We’ve also done golf tournaments and then we didn’t do anything for a few years because the requests were low and our funds were good,” Baldwin said. “Then last year we did a gun raffle and that was the first fundraiser we’d done in a while, and that went well for us. We might do another gun raffle or a 10 guns in 10 days type fundraiser for our 10th anniversary.”
Basically, the Parker County Firefighter Benevolent Fund will start fundraising once a need arises, Baldwin said.
“The greatest example is when we lost [Andy Loller], a Weatherford firefighter, last year and right after that all happened people started putting together GoFundMe accounts and I told them to hold off because we had the firefighter benevolent fund,” Baldwin said. “So we were able to reach out and people from all across the nation were able to donate to our fund with it earmarked for [Loller’s] family. So it went tax-free to them.”
Baldwin said the organization not only helps financially, but also provides resources for those struggling mentally to serve the well-being of a firefighter.
Both O’Neal and Baldwin said they got involved in the organization because they like to serve others.
“When somebody calls on me for help, I ask them what they need and if I don’t have it, where can I get it? If I don’t know what I’m doing, who can I ask? Who can I learn from? I have a difficult time saying no and if I can help somebody and make their life better — no matter what I have going on in my life — I’m going to do it,” O’Neal said.
Baldwin said he’s always had a servant’s heart.
“My dad was a volunteer firefighter and paid paramedic, so I knew what I wanted to do for my career all my life. It’s always been my goal to serve the community and this is just another way to serve the community, but more specifically the families that are serving our community,” Baldwin said. “We take care of the community, but there’s not really anybody that takes care of us, so that’s where we come in.”
For more information about the Parker County Firefighter Benevolent Fund, or to donate, visit www.pcfbf.org or the organization’s Facebook page.