15 March 2007

Boot drive to raise funds for fitted helmets
Seguin firefighters' group wants to help soldiers fighting overseas

SEGUIN — Not many of us probably think about it, but there’s an empathy — a kind of kinship — between those who put out fires and those who bring fire on others to protect our lives.

It’s not surprising when you think about it. Both institutions, the military and the fire service, are uniformed, highly-regimented organizations with strict adherence to tradition and chain-of-command.

Unfortunately, that isn’t all the military and the fire service have in common. Just as surely as a soldier or a sailor, a firefighter knows in the back of his or her mind that their commitment to the community includes the willingness to lay down their own life, if need be, in the line of duty.

And so 343 firefighters and paramedics gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, to demonstrate that valor and commitment and become the first casualties in the War on Terror.

Now, the members of the Seguin Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 4122 are joining a nationwide campaign called “Operation Helmet” working to raise money to buy adapters that make military combat helmets safer and more comfortable. Firefighters will be at Court and Austin streets between 8 a.m. and noon, Saturday, seeking donations to help soldiers and Marines modify their helmets.

Anyone who has any experience with military helmets — be it the old, World War II-style steel pot made famous by dog-faced American soldiers around the world or even the more modern steel/Kevlar/composite piece in use today — knows they’re strong, they’re heavy, but they’re less than form-fitting and far less than comfortable with their webbed and leather suspension.

And just like in almost any other industry, there is an after-market in retrofitting and improving military equipment, and a form-fitting, foam-backed strap system that holds the helmet in place is available — for between $70 and $90 per helmet.

Since its inception, the Houston-based “Operation Helmet” has raised money to refit more than 33,000 helmets with the improved liners.

Firefighter/Paramedic Chris Chomel, who is publicity chairman for the SPFFA, said he doesn’t know why the military doesn’t provide all the necessary adapter kits itself. According to the Operation Helmet Internet Web site, www.operation-helmet.org , the military is working on the issue, but supplies of the products are running way short of demand by field soldiers.

To Chomel, it’s a no-brainer.

“It makes a big difference,” Chomel said. “It’s a hundred for that or hundreds of thousands of dollars treating a traumatic brain injury.”

Chomel said Saturday’s “fill the boot” fundraiser was proposed by SPFFA Local President Mark Kublank.

“Mark thought this would be a public safety service we could do to support our troops,” Chomel said. “We know a lot of soldiers could use these helmet upgrades.”

The fire service and the military, Chomel said, are closely related.

“It’s in our traditions, our structure and our chain-of-command,” Chomel said. “There’s a silent bond. A lot of our International Association of Fire Fighters members are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

At American Bank of Texas, the employees agreed with Chomel, Kublank and the SPFFA. Thursday afternoon, they kicked the campaign off with a check for $100 — which will ensure that at least one soldier is safer, and hopefully set an example for others to help.

The bank has a committee, called “Donations ‘R’ Us,” which meets to decide how employees spend money they raise for community causes.

“We do things throughout the entire year,” said Kimberly Doege, who serves on the committee. “We donate to different causes for different things.”

Those projects include the Blue Santa Christmas toy drive with the Seguin Police Department, the DARE program, Relay For Life and the American Heart Association.

The money is raised through donations, sack lunch days, bake sales and other efforts.

“We just did a bake sale on Valentine’s Day,” Doege said. “Now, we give the proceeds back to the community. We just wanted to do our part to help out.”

Can you help?


© 2007 . All Rights Reserved.

Chris Chomel with upgraded (in hand) and standard helmets

Seguin firefighters  and paramedics will hit the streets this weekend as part of "Operation Helmet." Funds collected Saturday at the corner of Austin and Court streets will help support the purchase of military helmet adapters. The adapters are said to be life-saving devices designed to keep helmets tightly secured on heads. Helping in the effort are, left to right, Jack Bradford, Chris Chomel, Chris Cody, Raul Zamarripa and Frank Herrera

Photos by Melissa Johnson