In 2004, Chief (Ret.) Charlie Dickinson of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire and Phil McLaughlin coordinated the first National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Memorial Golf Tournament in Fairfield, PA to raise awareness and support the programs of the Foundation. Since then, Dickinson has overseen the program and helped it grow to over 30 regional golf tournaments across the country raise more than $2,000,000 to help the NFFF.
Each tournament is run by individual coordinators and a team of volunteers. The Foundation provides a template to help coordinators establish a tournament in their community and offers general support and guidance.
This past February, Karl Ristow stepped in and began his tenure as the NFFF Golf Coordinator working closely with Regina Livingston, Development Program Manager for the NFFF Golf and Stair Climb Programs. Both Karl and Dickinson agreed to continue attending NFFF Golf Tournaments as time and schedules permit. Karl, in his first year, attended Rochester’s Golf Tournament with Randy Jensen and Chicagoland Golf Tournament with Laura Haiden. Charlie traveled to Utah to attend the Wasatach Front Golf Tournament. Their experiences and reactions to these great events follow:
Chief Charlie Dickinson Shares His Experience at the Wasatach Front Golf Tournament on June 30, 2017
For the past several years, I had promised Chief Gil Rodriguez, of the Murray, Utah Fire Department, that I would try my best to make it to his golf tournament. This year was the 10th Annual Wasatch Front Tournament for National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. So finally, all the stars lined up, so to speak. My wife, Lily, and I went driving to California from Central Pennsylvania and timed our trip so that we could attend Gil’s Tournament on June 30, 201. We made it!
The Wasatch Front Tournament was held at Talons Cove Golf Club in Saratoga Springs which has a beautiful course and clubhouse. It was sold out. What a great day! You learn a lot of things hosting and coordinating a golf tournament. It was plain to see, not only is Chief Gil an excellent tournament host, he is also wonderful “Ambassador” for NFFF!
Gil has tremendous support from his volunteer staff. They were seemingly everywhere taking care of a myriad of last minute details and ensuring all systems were a go. After a nice buffet dinner, raffle prizes, and announcing the winning teams, Chief Gil introduced the fire service survivors, whose firefighters died in the line of duty. They reminded the attendees why Gil and his golf volunteers have dedicated their efforts to this tournament for 10 years – for them and their firefighter!
The Coordinator Perspective: Gil Rodriguez
Over 10 years ago, as I was struggling through my EFO courses, I was approached by two distinguished instructors, Charlie Dickinson and Phil McLaughlin. They asked if I would consider putting on a NFFF Golf Tournament in Utah. I had run golf tournaments before and knew about the NFFF tournament in Pennsylvania. I gave it some thought and after a minute agreed, this should be fun. You can imagine the excitement my staff had when I came back and gave them the good news and added just a little more to their plate.
Running and organizing the golf tournament was one thing, a technical task, but something that is not insurmountable. We in the fire service generally work well under pressure.
Our first tournament went well! We were sold out and made a decent amount.
The other part of this event, which is the most important part, and is why we are running the tournament – for the families of those who have lost a loved one in the line of duty. This was the tougher part, connecting to the survivors both personally and emotionally.
We met and established a great friendship with Katie and Gary Smith, who lost their son. They wanted to be a part of our event even though they lived in Wyoming. Jennifer Cormican, from Colorado, also came out to our first event; she had lost her father in the line of duty. Sadly, this year, we also added another survivor after we lost a dear friend in the line of duty.
The annual coordinators meetings at NETC in Emmitsburg were a great help. We would always pick up new ideas and feel the pain and successes of everyone else; not to mention the great friendships that we established with other coordinators. One burning question that I had, was how I should approach survivors and I wasn’t alone. I left with a better understanding of how to approach the survivors.
Looking back, I can say this – it is work and sometimes it is difficult because the work of the fire department needs to be the priority. Some of the lessons I have learned are simple:
• Take care of your sponsors. They put their money into your tournament and want something in return.
• Make the event fun for everyone. You want them to look forward to the tournament the following year.
• Keep the tournament moving. Get sponsors/groups out to your holes to interact with the golfers.
• Know what the players want. Have the food, beverages, good stuff, and prizes they want.
• Make the tournament a great day!
After completing our 10th tournament this year, we can look back and know that we have sold out nearly every tournament. Our survivors a very big part of this day. I also can’t say enough about the hard work of our volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to help make these events successful. We have raised over $200,000 and have made this a great tournament which everyone looks forward to attending. Most of all, we have honored our fire service survivors and made sure that they know that we will never forget their loved ones.