BOISE, Idaho — As Burk Minor looks around the lobby of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, where pictures of hundreds of fallen wildland firefighters hang, he sees honor.
"I get more foot traffic in here from the boots on the ground in the wildland community. They stop to see their fallen brothers and pay respect," Burk said. He is the executive director of the non-profit, which shares the stories of fallen wildland firefighters and support their families through a crisis.
The work Burk does with the foundation runs in his family.
"My mother [Vicki Minor] was the founder of the foundation and started it," Burk said.
Vicki started the foundation back in 1994 after the Storm King Mountain Tragedy when 14 wildland firefighters were killed fighting a fire near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
"There was not a lot going on with the families of the fallen," Burk said. "A group of volunteers got together, the founder of this foundation and just created and started helping families."
Since then, Burk and others have continued the cause by supporting hundreds of families around the world with immediate financial and crisis assistance to families of fallen wildland firefighters and to injured wildland firefighters.
"For the first responders in the wildland community, it gives them a safety net, it gives them a purpose and it lets them know that somebody has their back when things go south out there," Minor said.
When tragedy strikes the foundation serves as that safety net. They help pay for travel, book hotels, pay for memorials, pair families with trauma specialists and more.
"Every situation is unique to different families," Burk said. "Whatever their needs are, we get taken care of."
Their latest mission of support hits close to home for the Boise-based organization. Two helicopter pilots died in a helicopter crash while fighting the Moose Fire near Salmon in the central-eastern part of Idaho. The pilots have been identified as 41-year-old Thomas "Tommy" Hayes of Post Falls, Idaho, and 36-year-old Jared Bird of Anchorage, Alaska.
The pilots were employees of ROTAK Helicopter Services, which is based in Anchorage.
"The first thing that in my mind is we need to get these families to help get these guys' honor," Minor said.
Because of how close and tight-knit the wildland firefighting community is, Burk said they were able to get a hold of the families right away.
"We've already got transportation and hotels and everything lined out for them as they go collect their loved ones," Burk said.
Burk said this is the least he can do to thank those who put it all on the line and sacrificed their lives to protect others. He encourages others to show the first responders and their families gratitude as well.
"These guys are out there putting it all on the line. You know, anytime somebody sees the green or yellow buggy rolling down the road, give them a high five or give them a 'Thank you.' The firefighters love that," Burk said.
Burk said he has plans to add Hayes' and Bird's pictures to the memorial wall in their lobby in the near future.
Besides working with families in crisis, the Foundation partners with agencies and others to work toward preventing line of duty deaths, when it comes to topics such as safety on the job and supporting mental health for first responders.
For those interested in donating to the Foundation to support other firefighters and families in the future, click HERE.
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