Firefighters to shower gift cards on fire victims

Firefighters from the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District will soon be offering residents more than safety from fires.

Beginning in a few weeks, firefighters will also be offering victims of major fires and natural disasters $100 gift cards to help them recover, said fire Capt. Vincent Wells, who is president of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230.

Wells said the union, along with the fire chief, signed a contract with the California Fire Foundation to launch a new program aimed at providing emergency financial assistance to victims of fires and natural disasters.

The program, called Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency, or SAVE, will allow the department to provide immediate temporary support so victims can buy basic necessities such as food, clothing or medicine, Wells said.

According to Wells, the foundation will supply the gift cards, while the fire district will distribute them.

Wells explained how tragic a fire can be for its victims:

“As we’re fighting the fire and putting it out, often you have the family members sitting on the sidewalk across the street in their pajamas or whatever belongings they were able to walk out in as they’re watching their house and their property go up in smoke.”

He  continued:

“This is just one way of saying we’re going to do a little more than just put your fire out. We’ll offer this to at least help you get through the night.”

The gift cards operate like debit cards, meaning they can be used to purchase any variety of goods, Wells said.

Not everyone will get the cards, Wells said. They will be reserved for victims of major fires or natural disasters who sustain major losses.

Wells said a recent string of fires in Martinez allegedly set off by an arsonist earlier this month highlights the adverse impact that fires can have, not solely on the properties that are affected by the flames, but on neighboring residences, as well.

“You might not be in the actual property that was burned but because of smoke damage and water damage and all the holes we cut fighting the fire, often it displaces a lot more people than just the apartment of origin.”

The battalion chiefs in charge of the response to any fire incident would determine whether the fire meets the department’s threshold for distributing the gift cards, Wells said.

He said officials in the department would begin meeting next week to determine a standard policy for doling out the cards.

So far, the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District will be the only county fire agency participating, but Wells said they would test out the program as a pilot and then other agencies may follow suite.

His union represents fire departments in El Cerrito and Pinole, the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and the Moraga-Orinda Fire District, which Wells said would likely adopt the program as well.

According to its website, the California Fire Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides emotional and financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters, firefighters and the communities they protect.

It was formed in 1987 by the California Professional Firefighters union, according to the site.