A spark in the spring

Involved in fundraising since 1973, the Whitehorse Firefighters Association formed as a nonprofit five years ago, and a charitable society in 2017

What happens when the fire is out and the cat is rescued from the tree? Look no further than the Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society (WFCS) to find out that when the job is done, they just keep helping people. The society is an extension of what firefighters do while on the job, but it gives them the opportunity to help people beyond emergency situations. To help people in a lasting manner.

I sat down for a coffee with firefighter Nick O’Carroll. We met in his Wolf Creek home to talk about the society and its upcoming spring gala, his passion for the WFCS and the causes it supports. O’Carroll said the gala program will be presented in a “laughable manner,” with live music during the cocktail hour, great DJ’s and dancing. Still, the story of where the gala fits into the brief history of the WFCS, and its vision for the future, is more compelling than humourous.

Whitehorse firefighters have been involved in fundraising since 1973. The Whitehorse Firefighters Association, however, formed as a non-profit only five years ago, becoming a registered charity in 2017.

Some of the major causes supported by the WFCS include the following:

  • Share the Spirit. Last year the Society helped get food hampers and 2,000 presents to 662 kids.
  • Financial support for Mae Bachur through firefighter calendar sales.
  • British Columbia Professional Firefighters Burn Fund. Supports burn victims through contributions to medical research, medical care and a home away from home program for families of patients in B.C. and the Yukon.
  • Muscular Dystrophy programs. Firefighters have raised money to support muscular dystrophy programs ever since a single firefighter in Boston in 1954 watched a boy next door struggle with the disease. Whitehorse firefighters have donated to this cause since 1973 and recently held their first rooftop campout (in -38 degrees) to raise awareness and funds for the neuromuscular disorder.

The society also has a community engagement mandate, as demonstrated by its bouncy castle and kiddie combat challenge, where kids can play at firefighting on Canada Day. In addition to enjoying helping people as a firefighter, O’Carroll explained that he enjoys the challenge.

“The challenge of working with people to get things done. I have learned a great deal of patience and you have to be as persistent as the tide. The challenge of running the numbers, budgets, office-type work that most firefighters normally don’t do. The challenge of the task itself, such as the logistics of getting 2,000 presents to 662 kids in one day.”

In response to a question about which cause pulls at his heartstrings, O’Carroll talked about Share the Spirit. 
“I am from Nova Scotia and Share the Spirit reminds me so much of Christmas Daddies, which helps less fortunate children in the Maritimes. Christmas has always been an extremely special time for myself. The WFCS inherited Share the Spirit from the Kinette Club, which ran the operation on a year to year basis. In that first year, after the WFCS had committed to delivering packages to a certain number of families, and the money was slow to come in, a number of us in the society were looking at pulling our lines of credit. Once we had committed, we felt like we just couldn’t let it not happen. In the end, the money did come in, but now we have a buffer to draw on at the beginning of each year, so we are not scrambling as much as that first year.”

He said it can be a sensitive issue, how money is distributed by organizations such as the WFCS.

“We have the best vetting service,” he said. “We work closely with the government and other government partners to make this determination, while still protecting confidentiality. We are honored that we have been given this trust.”

So, where does the spring gala work into long-term planning? The society has come up with a 100-year plan to serve the Yukon. It’s looking at ways to ensure sustainability. It wants to know it can continue to help the community during a recession when there may be financial storms. Growing the gala is one part of this plan.

O’Carroll hesitated at the question about a financial goal for the gala. “Being our first gala, first, we just want to get through it, establish it and eventually have it become our major fundraiser.”

He did eventually say the society is hoping to raise between $10,000 and $15,000. This is important because 2018 was a rough year for contributions to Share the Spirit. The society needs to build up that reserve to buy food for the drive. Finally, O’Carroll shared a story about what society action looks like on a day to day level.

“A crew responded to a car fire one day. After the fire was put out, the owner was standing holding two bags with that thousand-mile stare. The couple was expecting a baby the next day and everything was destroyed, including toys and a brand new car seat. The crew contacted the society (which) found out that the car seat would not be covered by insurance, so WFCS bought a car seat for the baby. A year later, at a pancake breakfast for Share the Spirit, a firefighter was given a card containing a thank you note, a cheque for Share the Spirit and a picture of the baby in the car seat.”

They certainly do more than rescue cats from trees. 

Remax presents the Whitehorse Firefighters Charitable Society Spring Gala on May 4, 2019. Visit AfterTheFireIsOut.com for more information.

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