On November 6, members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Family Support Group gathered with Fire Chief Daryl Osby and special guests at the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum in Bellflower to celebrate 30 years of providing support and comfort to surviving members of our Department’s fallen.
Laura Herman, widow of Fire Fighter Steve Herman and the group’s current coordinator, accepted a commemorative gift from the Fire Chief, along with his thanks for serving fellow Fire Department families for three decades. “We will never forget your sacrifices,” he said.
As members ate a delicious lunch prepared by Firehouse Chefs, Nancy Baker, the group’s coordinator from 1992-2002, shared an account of the group’s history.
“I’ve been asked to talk to you today about the history of the L.A. County Family Support Group. I’m going to squeeze 30 years of history into about eight minutes,” Baker began. “When Candy Wilson and Angie Baquet lost their L.A. County firefighter husbands in 1984, they both lived in Huntington Beach, had small children and were able to cling to each other through their grieving process. They decided that they could help future women whose firefighter husbands died while on the job. They named the group and made a proposal to the Fire Chief at the time, John Englund, who welcomed the idea with open arms. So, the support group was born.”
Baker went on to share that the group’s purpose is to have a place where a new widow or widower can ask questions of others who have been through the same life-changing challenges, and to provide emotional support and guidance for those who have lost firefighter family members.
“Candy would attend the funeral and then was in touch with the widow,” she explained. “She was then back in touch with the widow and eventually would invite her to a luncheon, where the group would gather once a month.”
In the 30 years since, the group has welcomed over 60 women. In more recent years following the recruitment of women into the Department’s firefighting ranks, a few widowers also joined. Baker says that the group is there for everyone. Some join for just a few months and then move on, but friendships formed keep them close.
“We have many in our group who have been with us for many years. I’ll call this our core group, and I’d like to recognize them as they also work for the continuation of our group,” she said, as she asked them to stand as each was recognized. “Nancy Howe, Joann Davis, Ingrid Weiss-Salveson, Chris Moiseve, Barbara Rubick, Donna Russell, our present coordinator Laura Herman, and Kristina Hajjar and Roxanne Benavides-Ortega, our liaisons from the Fire Department. Thank you, all of you.”
Although Wilson was not able to join the anniversary celebration, Retired Fire Chief John Englund and his son, John Englund, Jr., were in attendance. In an email sent to Rubick the following day, he expressed pride in the fact that the group was still meeting and growing after all these years.
“It was both an honor and pleasure to be with you,” Chief Englund wrote. “I really enjoyed spending time and talking with all of you. My wife Irene and I met with Candy Wilson and Angie Baquet when they were trying to get the Family Support Group started up. They asked Irene to attend a meeting with them which she did. Irene would have been honored to have been able to attend this anniversary luncheon. After 30 years, it was inspiring to me to see that the group is still viable and providing a valuable service to families.”
While the group’s primary mission is to provide individual support, they have accomplished a few key projects along the way. Most notably, the group assisted the L.A. County Fire Department Memorial Committee formed in the mid-1990s with its plan to design and construct a permanent memorial wall at Department headquarters in East Los Angeles. The group was given three votes as committee members and attended meetings for years while the planning took place. Another notable accomplishment was the creation of the Family Support Group Survivors Handbook, now given to all surviving spouse to help navigate the many benefits and resources available to them following the death of a firefighting spouse. The handbook is filled with advice and also aims to provide comfort.
Since turning over the reins 12 years ago, Baker’s successors include Sue Schmidt (widow of John Schmidt, coordinator from 2002-2003), Ingrid Weiss Salveson (widow of Dale Weiss, coordinator from 2003-2010) and Laura Herman (widow of Steve Herman, coordinator from 2012 to the present).
“We are fortunate to have the blessing and moral support of our Fire Chief, Daryl Osby, and before him, Chief P. Michael Freeman. We are honored to be small part of the L.A. County Fire Department family. Will everyone who is or has been a member of the Family Support Group please stand?” asked Baker, as she watched just about everyone in the building rise from their seats.