BOISE, Idaho (CNN) -- Firefighter Jonathan Frohreich had never heard of The Wildland Firefighter Foundation, much less its founder, until recovering from severe work-related injuries last month.
Vicki Minor's Wildland Firefighter Foundation has granted more than $1.5 million in aid to more than 500 families.
As he lay in his hospital bed in Sacramento, California, Vicki Minor put her hand on his shoulder.
"She introduced herself and told me that she was there to help," recalls Frohreich, who had been in a helicopter crash that killed nine of his colleagues. "She just said, 'Anything.' She was there to do anything for me."
Since 1999, Minor has dedicated herself to providing emergency assistance and ongoing support to injured and fallen wildfire fighters and their families nationwide through her Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Wildland firefighters are called into action when the United States' vast natural resources are threatened by fire.
For Frohreich, Minor's foundation supplied lodging and food for family and friends who visited his bedside. It also provided emergency funds for medical and other expenses, arranged for Frohreich to meet with firefighters who carried him to safety, and brought his fallen comrades' family members to a bereavement ceremony.
"She means everything," Frohreich said. "She's one of the best things to ever happen."
Minor first became involved with the wildland firefighter community 21 years ago after witnessing a wildfire for the first time.
"I had never seen anything like it," Minor recalls of the blaze in the mountains of Idaho. "All those firefighter units mobilized in camps that cropped up. It was like an invasion, and I was mesmerized."
Minor started a fire camp commissary, providing dry goods, clothing and necessities to the firefighters. But it wasn't until tragedy struck in 1994 at Storm King Mountain, Colorado, where 14 firefighters perished in a single day, that Minor was overcome with a need to assist the families.
The Storm King fire was a turning point. "Fighting fire is much like fighting a war. There's no time to tend to the injured, or tend to the dead. The fire doesn't stop raging," Minor said. "I looked up at the heavens and I said to those kids, 'Help me help your families.' "
Grieving wildland families, like those of fallen soldiers, tend to be young and scattered throughout the country, often enduring their sudden loss in isolation from their firefighting community. Taking cues from a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Minor spearheaded fundraising efforts for the erection of the Wildland Firefighters Monument in Boise, Idaho, which contains markers "for almost every wildland firefighter that has fallen," Minor said.
"I had seen and felt the healing of those combat veterans that would touch a name of their friend," Minor said. "Our wildland firefighters had nothing like that to process their grief. I wanted to create a place where our families could congregate, reach out in solidarity and comfort to honor their fallen and injured." Watch Minor describe the sculptures in the firefighter monument »
Since 1999, the foundation has continued to grow, assisting more than 500 wildland firefighters and their families with more than $1.5 million in emergency funds and services, including communication support; travel and lodging for the injured and fallen; and emotional and benefit counseling and advocacy. Watch Minor describe how her foundation takes action to aid wildfire fighters »
"There is a need for these families to be taken care of, and a long-term need," Minor said. "But most of it is to maintain that home until benefits come in."
When survivors suddenly lose their income and don't know how to apply for the compensation they're entitled to, Minor's foundation steps in to guide them, often fighting for them when benefits are delayed or denied. Watch Minor explain why her foundation fights for firefighters and their families »
Minor says she hopes the wildland firefighters know "we have their back."
"I hope that they feel they can go on and fight that fire and know that we'll take care of their family and their friends."
|Most Viewed||Most Emailed||Top Searches|