Community recognizes 2024 “Chiefs Challenge” team that raised over $15,000 for the Burn Insitute

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Folsom’s Fire Station 35 was the site of celebration and recognition Wednesday morning as residents and members of the community joined with those from Folsom Fire Department and local non-profit Hearts 4 Heroes USA to celebrate the record breaking success of last months “Chief’s Challenge,” in which Folsom’s generosity and efforts raised over $15,0000 for the Firefighters Burn Institute.

Every year, fire agencies from throughout Northern and Central California come together to make a positive difference in the lives of burn survivors by hosting a boot drive in their community to collect donations for the Institute.  Locally, six different fire chiefs across the region teamed together again this year with their very own “Chief’s Challenge,” a friendly competition to see which department could raise the most funds for the great cause. 

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As reported in a Folsom Times article last month, it was Folsom’s own Fire Chief, Ken Cusano who got the privilege of hoisting the perpetual trophy as the Folsom community showed its generosity in a big way this year. Not only raising the most money in the 2024 challenge, but raising the most amount that a single department or community has raised on record. 

Overall, $35,000.00 was raised collaboratively among the six participating agencies this year, Cusano and team Folsom’s boots were busy, collecting more than $15,000.00 of that total amount. The other five participating agencies included Cosumnes Fire, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire, Sacramento Fire, Sacramento Airport Fire and Woodland Fire. 

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“Winning the Chiefs Challenge at the Firefighters Burn Institutes “Fill the Boot for Burns” Boot Drive is truly an indication to the capability of our community and the dedication of our department,” Cusano told Folsom Times after Wednesday’s special celebration.

Locally based Hearts 4 Heroes USA helped lead and facilitate the various boot drive events for Cusano and his department during the last week of January. It wasn’t uncommon to see Cusano and the local firefighters at various intersections and parking lots with boots in hand collecting from motorists. Bruce and Shelley Martell, founders of Hearts 4 Heroes USA, were among those both participating and being recognized in Wednesday’s celebration. 

“Hearts 4 Heroes USA is an amazing group who continue to go above and beyond supporting public safety,” said Cusano. “Their contributions are a valuable asset to the public safety community, and they deserve recognition for their exceptional work.”

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In addition to the various roadside collections, there were several pop up collection events throughout the community, thanks to the help of local business owners that loaned their facilities out for short periods of time, from drive throughs to store fronts, local restaurants and more, many of which were in attendance Wednesday and recognized as well.  

We are grateful for our local businesses who helped out this year, Chick-fil-A, Visconti’s Ristorante, and Mayweather Boxing and Fitness as well and Hearts 4 Heroes as well as the proud commitment of the Folsom Firefighters Association, “ added Cusano. 

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We are grateful for the support of local businesses like Chick-fil-A Folsom, Visconti’s Ristorante, Mayweather Boxing and eFitness, Hearts 4 Heroes USA, as well as the proud commitment of the Folsom Firefighters Association. 

Donations that are passed on to the Fire Fighters Burn Institute are used to improve burn treatment and to fund life-altering burn recovery programs, including Firefighters Kids Camp for young burn survivors and the Little Heroes Family Burn Camp, according to The Institute. In 2024, the institute hope to reach its goal of $50,000 from boot drives alone. 

The firefighters Burn Institute’s (FFBI) early beginnings were in 1973, following a tragedy in Sacramento County that inspired a local fire captain to create the organization.  It was 1972 when a jet airplane attempting to take off from Sacramento Executive Airport during an air show, crashed into a crowded Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, killing 23 people and burning many others. 

On that day, Sacramento firefighter, Gene LaVine, and eight members of his family were killed in the fiery crash. Then Sacramento Fire Department Captain Cliff Haskell convinced the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 to allow him to begin working to stablishing a specialized burn unit for the area. In December of 1973, Haskell’s efforts formed the FFBI.

FFBI’s goal was to help establish a local burn treatment facility in the Sacramento area. Shortly after its founding, the FFBI collaborated with physicians and administration at the University of California Davis Medical Center to open the UCDMC Regional Burn Center in January of 1974.

Over the years, FFBI has expanded its mission to include burn research, public education, fire and burn prevention and burn recovery for survivors and their families, which extends far beyond the firefighting community to any and all burn survivors. 

Firefighters are instrumental in the planning and execution of all programs and their involvement in the FFBI has been the hallmark of its success. Nearly five decades later, the FFBI participates in local recovery and educational outreach efforts and plays an active leadership role on a national level through its involvement in the Federation of Burn Foundations and the American Burn Association.

Learn more about the institute at www.ffburn.org. Your can learn more about locally based Hearts 4 Heroes USA at www.hearts4heroesusa.org. To learn more about Folsom Fire visit www.folsom.ca.us/government/fire.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan