Local firefighters band together to help Houston

Ten Prince George’s County firefighters, primarily residents of Calvert County, headed to Houston Sept. 11 to provide relief for the first responders of Hurricane Harvey.

“This is strictly to support our brothers and sisters,” shared Dunkirk’s Zach Longfellow, who works at Company 23 in Forestville.

“Our goal down there [is] to reach out to the firefighters, the EMTs, the police officers — the ones who have been boots on the ground the last two weeks who haven’t had time to check on their families, haven’t had time go out and buy diapers — because they’d been out helping other people,” said Dunkirk resident Scott Larson, who works at Company 44 in Chillum.
The idea for the trip came about when Huntingtown resident Tony Wallach decided he wanted to go to Houston to help out. Wallach, who is a Prince George’s County firefighter at Company 34, known as Chillum-Adelphi, enlisted the help of Longfellow, Larson and seven other firefighters. Wallach also set up an online fundraiser to finance the group effort.

“I am starting this GoFundMe to raise money for the First Responders out there on the streets saving the lives of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. While we have all sat back and watched this whole event unfold from the comfort of our homes, there are many victims still out there that need our help and need the assistance of those First Responders,” shared Wallach on the GoFundMe page he set up Aug. 28, three days after Harvey made landfall in Texas.

In under 13 days, with the generosity of 195 people, the page raised $12,617 for the effort.

“We started with a goal of $10,000. We reached that in two and a half days,” said Longfellow.

Armed with a list of needed items for the first responders from a local union in the Houston area, the group used the funds to purchase cases of water, Gatorade, diapers, wipes and quick snacks that don’t need to be heated or fixed.

Since the charitable effort is not sponsored by the Prince George’s Fire Department and is of the firefighters’ own volition on their own time, they purchased their own roundtrip airfare to Houston. However, someone donated separate funds to reimburse each firefighter for their travel, and somewhere along the way, their effort gained the moral support of the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters Local 1619.

Larson said he reached out to End Hunger in Calvert County for some nonperishable items from the their food pantry.

“They reached out to us for supplies. So, we jumped in,” said Jackie Miller, president of End Hunger, a program with a distribution center that supplies partner food pantries with food to serve individual families.

Leveraging social media, End Hunger reached out to all its networks, and Chesapeake Church’s the Rev. Robert Hahn reached out from the pulpit to gain support for the firefighters by collecting supplies for the disaster relief onsite at the church’s Lobby Coffee Bar.

“People have been bringing stuff in all week long,” said Miller. And according to Larson, The Calverton School held a weeklong drive of raising donations from students and faculty that were delivered to the coffee bar at week’s end.

The group had originally planned to use much of the money raised to buy supplies in Houston, but the effort had grown so large thanks to End Hunger and Hahn that the donations consumed a great portion of the Lobby Coffee Bar. The group had to figure out how to get those items to Houston, but not for long.

“Steve Caton, the owner of the BP [gas station] in Dunkirk, actually donated an entire truck to us,” said Larson.

Larson, who drove the truck filled with the donated supplies down on Sunday, will be flying back with the other firefighters thanks to Caton, who paid for the one-way rental of a box truck.

Larson left behind his wife, Valentina, and three very young sons, Benedict, Oliver and Lincoln, to help his fellow first responders.

Company 34 Chillum-Adelphi firefighter Niki Robshaw of Owings also left behind her family to help out. Her 18-month-old daughter, Scarlett, was in attendance at a special event Thursday hosted by End Hunger and Chesapeake Church to meet the firefighters and to give them a proper sign-off.

“This is really important to us at Chesapeake Church, as a staff, not only to supply them with the items they need to provide relief, but we want to pray over them. We don’t want to pretend that this is a risk for them,” said Miller, referring to the young firefighters, many with young families.

Flying down to Houston with Wallach, Longfellow and Robshaw were Brunswick resident Renee Wood (Co. 47 Fort Washington); Annapolis resident DJ Wells (Co. 34 Chillum-Adelphi); Prince Frederick’s Vinny Mascaro (Co. 34 Chillum-Adelphi); and Lusby residents Mark Delgado (Co. 29 Suitland) and Miguel Ocasio (Co. 34 Chillum-Adelphi). Laurel resident Olivia Tacconelli (Co. 44 Chillum) assisted Larson with driving the supplies to Houston.

At the direction of Chesapeake Church’s stewardship pastor, Larry Patin, a group of 60-plus staff, church and community members prayed over the firefighters, their trip and their families. The group returns from Houston on Wednesday.

By TAMARA WARD tward@somdnews.com