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 Firefighters Burn Institute.  

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Locally, six different fire chiefs across the region teamed together again with their very own “Chief’s Challenge,” to see which department could raise the most funds and 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.

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, and funds are still being tallied from online donations.  The other five participating agencies included Cosumnes Fire, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire, Sacramento Fire, Sacramento Airport Fire and Woodland Fire. 

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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. It wasn’t just every citizens the team solicited, there’s even photographs documenting donations being collected by Folsom Police patrol units that happen to drive by.  

“The Folsom community and its businesses are certainly extremely supportive,” said Cusano. “And again, Hearts 4 Heroes led the drive this year assisting raise donations along with the Folsom Firefighters Association.”

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Folsom Fire Chief was awarded the the perpetual trophy for raising the most funds in the Chief’s Challenge this year which exceeds $15,000.

In addition to the various roadside collections, there were several pop up collection events thoughout 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. 

We are grateful for our local businesses who helped out this year, said Cusano. “Chick-fil-A, Visconti’s Ristorante, and Mayweather Boxing and Fitness.” The generosity of the community holds a special place for Cusano, a longtime local resident who once played for the Folsom Bulldogs and joined the department in 1998 as a firefighter-paramedic. 

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. 

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Folsom Fire Chief reached out to all types of potential donors during the 2024 Boot Drive, and Folsom Police was no exempt from pitching in as they passed by.

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.

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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.

Folsom Fire Chief (left) pictured with Sacramento Metro Fire Chief Adam A. House during the recent boot drive.
The 2024 Boot Drive and Chief’s Challenge was a multi-community effort all for a good cause.
Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan