Downtown Los Angeles played host to the 15th annual Hope for Firefighters. The fundraising event, benefiting the Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund, was originally created in response to a tragic on-duty helicopter accident. What started as a tribute to our fallen firefighters has become a celebration of the essential role that the LAFD plays in our community.

This year’s event, officially presented by Silver Sponsor U.S. Bank, was as big a draw as ever. Hope for Firefighters Committee member Kimberly Thornton stated “I think this year’s event was the best to date.  I have been involved with Hope for Firefighters event and the raffle committee since 2002.   It has been a pleasure to work with so many passionate people who do this year after year.”  Indeed, that passion was evident even in the early hours with the prep work just getting underway. The crowds were eager to join in the fun, with many requests to buy Fire Bucks early in order to secure a prime spot in line to sample all of the tasty treats the firefighters had cooked up for the day.

The food is always one of the main draws at Hope for Firefighters, and this year was certainly no exception. From tri-tip to snow cones in a wide range of flavors, there were selections sure to please every palate. Some of the dishes could have easily come from a gourmet restaurant, including the selection offered by the winning food booth operated by Fire Station 60 and Grainger, creole shrimp and short rib tacos. Grainger representative Christina Kyle, who helped serve food in the booth alongside the firefighters, was proud to be part of the winning team. “Grainger loves the opportunity to be a part of this amazing event… we look forward to participating in it every year! The firemen work really hard to help make the event a success by setting up the booth’s theme and making fantastic food. In fact, they did such a great job our station won best food–and next year we plan to do the same!”

Sometimes the simplest offerings can be one of the biggest draws for guests. Fire Station 87 and Thomas Properties Group had a real hit on their hands with their bags of kettle corn. Jason Knight, who also donated two fire axes for the Hope raffle, could frequently be seen offering free samples of kettle corn to passersby. “You’ve got to lure them in. Every year, we bring in tons of money… it’s food people can carry with them.”

One element that added a lot of fun to the food booths was the effort and dedication that the firefighters put into their chosen themes. The movie-themed booths in particular were a big hit with the crowd. The winning dessert booth, serving deep fried Oreo bombers prepared by Fire Station 12, featured a Top Gun theme, complete with hit songs from the classic soundtrack. Quite a few members of the public stopped to take photos of the Post-It-covered mannequin outside of Fire Station 50’s Office Space-themed booth.

The winner for best-themed booth was Fire Station 88, whose Animal House booth featured servers in togas and a chance to meet Flounder from the movie.  Pauline Maclean from American Technologies, Inc. enjoyed being a part of the infamous frat house. “It was ATI’s first time sponsoring this event and we were honored to be partnered with our heroes at Fire Station 88 Sherman Oaks. Winning Best Theme for ‘Animal House’ was the icing on the cake! We look forward to supporting this great cause again next year.”

It wasn’t just the firefighters who added a show business touch to the event. Hope for Firefighters was proud to play host to a reunion of the cast of Leave It To Beaver. Four actors from the classic show came out in support of Widows and Orphans: Ken Osmond (Eddie), Jerry Mathers (Beaver), Tony Dow (Wally) and Frank Bank (Lumpy). The actors signed photos and took pictures with fans to help raise money for Widows and Orphans. Dow, whose son is a firefighter in Fresno, said that the cause was “close to my heart”. Mathers added “It’s a great event. These are the people who put their life on the line for us. We’re happy to give something back.”

As always, the muster teams were a popular event, with crowds gathering on the sidewalk to watch while they ate. Many of the teams could be seen discussing strategy and practicing timing before their round. In particular, the bucket brigade competition really showed off the teams’ precision. The enthusiastic announcing by Sean Parr brought real excitement to the games. With water from the hose cart pull sometimes going in unexpected directions, spectators were sprayed as well as entertained.

The overall winner of the muster games was Muir Chase Plumbing. The team, including ten-year competitor Adam Muir, clocked an impressive time of 86.46 seconds. In second place, with a time of 93.33 seconds, was the team from MPG Office Trust. Six seconds behind them was the third place team, Able Engineering.

Even in the midst of all of the fun, the sense of greater purpose remained evident. While many member of the crowd were downtown-area employees on their lunch break, not everyone there was in business wear. It was clear that plenty of people had braved the downtown traffic in order to support the event. There were plenty of people who indulged in an extra treat or two in the name of a good cause. And the National Anthem, sung by Hope regular Lea Carranza, quickly brought the large crowd to attention.

At the end of the day, the event is all about helping the Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund.  The following story, shared by Kimberly Thornton, shows what a success the event was in that regard: “It really hit home for me when I was making follow up calls to the silent auction winners and one person I spoke with told me she was a widow of a fallen firefighter.  Emotion came over me as she continued to tell me she comes to the event every year and is very grateful for what Hope for Firefighters does for the community and LAFRA.  It was extremely humbling and makes it that much more special to be a part of this event and friendships that we have built over the years.”

By Jody Houser