On October 5th, 2022, The Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association celebrated yet another well-attended Open House event even as we all struggle to put the memory of the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. With the sun shining, but plenty of shade in place, hundreds of active and retired members gathered together to join in the day of activities of food, drink, and camaraderie. It was also a day of celebration as the Association honored one of their own—Valerie Lawrence – for her long-term commitment of service to the men and women of the Los Angeles City Fire Department.
The Association’s building, located just off the 134 freeway at Figueroa Street, was a buzz of activity as Relief Association members and employees alike worked hard to ready the place for the day’s events. A large tent with tables and chairs filled the parking lot at the rear of the building, a walk-up bar situated just a few steps away. Decorations adorned the tables, and a new banner with the Relief’s logo hung proudly, providing a beautiful backdrop for the speaking podium placed just inside the tent.
As guests arrived, they were welcomed by some great volunteers directing them in the right direction to join the celebration. Smiling faces were abound, enjoying the abundance of appetizers and cold drinks provided by the Association. LAFD Fire Apparel was there with a variety of LAFD apparel for sale, a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Relief. With a low rumble at first, growing into a low roar, the Fire Hogs made their presence known as they pulled into the parking lot. It’s always a pleasure to see the organization there—it usually means good things for our Widows, Orphans and & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund. If you ride a bike, Harley-Davidson or not, think about joining this well-respected organization. Younger members are especially welcomed. See what a good time could be had riding not just for fun but for a good cause. The Fire Hogs M/C Foundation’s goal is to promote a brotherhood amongst our fellow Firefighters while also providing assistance for all our fallen Firefighters and the loved ones they left behind. Stop making excuses and make the call. Good times, good rides, all for a good cause! Join today.
With everyone in place, lunch was called and the crowds migrated to the lower floor of the Association’s building. There, they were treated to an abundance of different entrees and desserts galore. The food smelled and tasted great, but the dessert was out of this world. This author made sure to take a few early passes before it was gobbled up by others—don’t worry, there was plenty for all.
With their bellies content, the crowd settled in for the day’s program. Jeff Cawdrey, the Relief President, stepped up to the podium and began speaking. He started out by saying his goodbyes, as he will be leaving the organization as President, and also be retiring from the LAFD. Jeff, we thank you for your years of dedicated service and we wish you and Gina only the best of times in retirement. Jeff proudly introduced his soon-to-be replacement, President-elect Chris Stine and his Vice-President-elect Jim Duffy. We are looking forward to the next few years under their leadership and pray for guidance as they move us into the future at LAFRA. Next, Jeff introduced Fire Hog VP Armando Diaz. VP Diaz, along with the other Fire Hogs in attendance made their way up to the podium, a few of them carrying a large cardboard check. And large it was, $35,000 large. VP Diaz presented the Association with the tremendously generous amount in the form of this large ceremonial check. Truly thank you, Fire Hogs for your ongoing support of the Widows, Orphans, & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund. Your endless generosity is greatly appreciated.
Next up was the star of the day, and year—The 2022 Open House Honoree—Valerie Lawrence. Jeff spoke of her dedication and service to the Relief and thanked her for the value she brings to this proud organization. And most would agree—there is no one more deserving of this honor today than Valerie Lawarence. I could go on and tell you but instead I leave you with her intended acceptance speech. Her words speak for themselves and we are honored by them:
“Hello everyone. I am so humbled to be here and even more embarrassed that I am being recognized for the things in life I enjoy doing. Volunteering has been part of my life since Girl Scouts. My sweet Mom would say it’s better to give than to receive and I agree except when it comes to dark chocolate.
I am not the only one being honored today but so is my husband, John. I first met him at a fire in Hollywood on Barham. His Captain had sent him over and told him if he did not come back with my phone number, he would not pass probation. Mission accomplished. John was a very generous man with his time and would volunteer us for all sorts of projects. Building and running a BMX track, fundraising for Benefit for our Bravest with the lovely Brodetsky family (Valley Inn Restaurant), Adopt a Fire Station for Division 3, and Bats and Beer with Lane Kemper.
My experience with the LAFD and the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association goes back 47 years. The Relief stepped up in 1978 when we had a child die at birth. They were only one phone call away again when we needed medical equipment, and again when we lost the use of our home after the 1994 Earthquake. The Relief Association paid for the food and beverages for the work party that followed, and in 2008 they helped when my husband John passed away.
I would like to take the time to recognize those who have been there for my family as we experienced one of our biggest trials when John passed away:
My family, Ray and Lydia Andrews, the entire Romas Family, The Fox Family, Fire Station 75’s crew, Bryan Hill, Cherif Amin, Adam Van Gerpen, Dave Marino and Bob Steinbacher from the Relief, Jan Graf for those 7:00 p.m. monthly phone calls, Juliet Brandolino for allowing me to stay busy in the office, Bill Bringas, Manny Castaneda, Jim Perry, Tom and Carol Curry helping with the battle with AFLAC, Danny Leon, John Tohill, Greg Gibson, our Fire Hogs M/C Foundation, and if you have never been to their events you must, and most of all, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the list goes on. One thing all of these friends have in common is that they are a true fire family, and thankfully follow the Fire Department traditions of taking care of our own. I received such sound advice to get some type of counseling or join in a grief group. I took that to heart and joined a grief group at my church and have been running the program with my friend Angela for the last eleven years.
I was also blessed to be accepted as part of the LAFD Peer Support, the only civilian, where I had the opportunity to understand more in order to help others with PTSD, the functions of our brain, suicide, and general grief issues.
When the opportunity arose to be part of the Family Support Group, I was not sure if it would be a good fit for me until I got to spend time with Diane Vigil. We currently have well over 820 fire survivors. We have traveled to all of the memorials with our fire families, Diane hand-writes birthday cards, sympathy cards, and I call them on the date of death of their Firefighter, so they know they are not grieving alone and follow up with the disaster permission sheets to update information. Each one of them loves their fire family. They want to stay connected because they trust firefighters. They look for volunteer opportunities to get help around the house. They would rather have a firefighter enter their home and help repair, lift items, clean out rain gutters, pick them up from doctor appointments, just to be there for the big and trivial things.
Prior to Covid, we have visited the stations and explained about the LAFRA Family Support Group. Since then, we have gathered over six hundred names of volunteer fire members that are willing to help our survivors and injured firefighters, but are always looking for more. This help could be as simple as driving them to doctor appointments, putting boxes up in the garage, assistance with some heavy furniture, light painting, small plumbing issues, and a list of other things.
We are not able to assist in remodeling, but we can help you with reliable resources to assist you.
We have had the privilege of assisting one widow who had several uncashed pension checks and we were able to work with pensions to assist her with getting the checks replaced and then set her up with direct deposit. Another widow was having issues with her homeowner’s association about chipped paint and a broken shutter, and one of our volunteers came out with a friend and fixed it. When they had an earthquake in the Bakersfield area, I called my friend Rich Diede at FS 88s. The crew went to her home and assisted her with picking up heavy furniture, then walked through and showed her how to shut off the gas to her home just in case of future rumblings. We later discovered that her husband’s last station was FS 88. When there are hurricanes, brush fires, tornados, and yes, earthquakes, we will try to call or email to see how you are. We have a Facebook page for our survivors and one for our volunteers.
We get questions about pensions, credit union, Relief Association and Union issues, and research them. We do not have all the answers, but we do know some amazing people that have those answers. It is quite easy to join our team. There is a chance we may never call you to help but rest assured the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association will be there to help you.
The Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association has seen a need for this program, and Diane and I are taking names and numbers to assist your families. Thank you for trusting us in every effort to solving your problems.”
And thank you Valerie for your contributions to the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association and congratulations on being this year’s 2022 Open House Honoree! You are a beautiful woman with an even more stunning spirit. We are humbled by your wiliness to always give of yourself and are honored you are part of our family here at LAFRA.
Hope to see all of you next year!
By John Hicks