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Helping Children of Fallen Firefighters Find Hope and Healing While Having Fun

Many people have fond memories of sleep-away camps. From singing songs and eating S’mores around the campfire, to swimming, archery and obstacle courses, camp was a place for great adventure. It was also a place to learn and grow. The Hal Bruno Camps for children of Fallen Firefighters offered these experiences and so much more to the children of fallen firefighters as well as their families and volunteers who attended.

Both Camp HAL (Healing After Loss) for children ages 4 – 6 and the NFFF Hal Bruno’s Comfort Zone Camp for 7 – 17-year-olds were held June 29-July 1 in New Jersey. For a full weekend, the campers shared stories about their firefighters and participated in sessions that helped them learn strategies for processing and expressing their emotions.

At Camp HAL, the children along with their parent learned about activities and programs dealing with grief and recovery that they can participant in together. Campers each received a book, “Sherman the Fire Cat”, written and donated by Fire Hero family member Patricia Bestgen. Everyone enjoyed their days filled with games through play therapy and art activities.

Thirty-nine campers (7-17) attended the NFFF Hal Bruno’s Comfort Zone Camp at the Johnsonburg Camp & Retreat Center. Near the scenic Delaware Water Gap with the Appalachian Mountains as a backdrop, campers met their “Big Buddy” and other camp support staff that would spend the weekend with them.
Most “Big Buddies” work within the fire service. They volunteer to support a camper throughout the weekend, and many have returned since volunteering at the first camp. It’s obvious these firefighters truly enjoy spending time with these remarkable children.

In addition to the usual summer camp activities, they learned healthy coping skills to assist them with their grief. Comfort Zone Campers shared their experience regarding the death of their firefighter in Healing Circles and participated in Confidence Course activities. The friendships created can extend well beyond camp, reinforcing that the campers are never alone and that their firefighter will never be forgotten.

On the final day of camp, little campers and their families traveled with the parents of the Comfort Zone Camp (CZC) Campers from the hotel to the Johnsonburg Camp & Retreat Center to reunite with the older campers. All campers participated in a closing Memorial Service. While the Comfort Zone Campers preformed skits, songs and tributes to their firefighters, the little campers performed their version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Camps empower children experiencing grief to fully realize their capacity to heal and grow in a safe and nurturing environment. Camps help parents connect with one another for support from others in similar situations. The 2018 camps wrapped-up with many hugs and sweet “until next year” goodbyes. If you are interested in learning more about camp or volunteering to become a Big Buddy, please contact Eric Nagle at enagle@firehero.org or by phone (301) 447-1431.

A special thanks to the Newark Airport Rescue Firefighters that met campers and parents arriving by plane. Thank you to the Morristown, Summit and Wantage New Jersey Fire Departments for providing ground transportation for the families, fire trucks, and logistical support for both camps. You made camp a huge success and we appreciate you all!