SUN COAST F.O.O.L.S. HISTORY May 26th, 2001 – May 26th, 2003
THE PROUD BUT TRAGIC FIRST TWO YEARS
Several firefighters from the west-central and south-west area of Florida had been teaching at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis and Sacramento for several years, beginning in 1997. Also teaching at FDIC was a group of firefighters from east-central Florida. Over the years these two groups got to know each other by sharing the same values, traditions and brotherhood of the fire service……mostly over much beer and cheer!
In addition to this “Florida friendship”, the group from the west (Sun Coast) met many members of FDNY, who also taught at FDIC. The FDNY firefighters had a very strong presence of “brotherhood” about them, which was very contagious. One of these FDNY firefighters, Andy Fredericks, made a very profound impact on several of the Sun Coast firefighters, telling them what the brotherhood was all about.
The Sun Coast group heard that the firefighters from east-central Florida formed an organization, calling themselves the Fraternal Order Of Leatherheads Society…….the FOOLS……and as funny as it may seem, with a name like the FOOLS, they were dedicated to preserving the traditions and brotherhood of the fire service and especially honoring those firefighters who have died in the line of duty.
So…….The Sun Coast F.O.O.L.S. was started as a suggestion from the executive board members (the central and east Florida firefighters) of F.O.O.L.S. International at FDIC in April of 2001.
On May 26th, 2001 a core group of thirteen firefighters from three area fire departments (Cedar Hammock, Sarasota and Southern Manatee) got together at Hollins’ house and formed the Sun Coast chapter of FOOLS International. These members were; Danny Anderson, Eddie Anderson, Troy Bercot, Sam Collier, Zeke Eckersen, John Elwood, Mike Hawkins, Christi Haymore, Tom Hennessy, Leigh Hollins, Jerry Jensen, Al Lobeto & Randy Stulce. A commitment was made by these “Founding FOOLS” that each one would recruit five additional members within two months. Jensen was “anointed” President, Stulce Vice President and Hollins Secretary Treasurer. By the middle of July there were 75 members and by September 1st of that same year the Sun Coast FOOLS had grown to 180 members!!
During July of that year it was decided to have a huge party to welcome all the new members of the Sun Coast FOOLS. The party was to be called FOOL-A-PALOOZA, a spoof of a rock concert known as LOLLA-PALOOZA. The 1st annual FOOL-A-PALOOZA was held at brother Sam Collier’s house in August of 2001. Special guests included FOOLS International President Mike Stallings and executive board member Mike Gilbert…….our FDIC brothers from east-central Florida !! The Suncoast FOOLS were presented with an inscribed flask by the International brothers, a flask they called “the can”. They told us about the tradition of the can and we toasted our fallen brothers, something we will do at every Sun Coast FOOLS gathering from now on.
During this time, the Sun Coast FOOLS were granted permission to use the old Bradenton Beach Volunteer Fire Department firehouse as their “lodge”. This was, and still is, the only FOOLS lodge known to exist. On September 10th, 2001 the Suncoast FOOLS had their second meeting ever and the first one at “the FOOLS lodge”. Little did the FOOLS know that within 12 hours of their meeting, on September 11th, 2001, not only would the world change, but many of the FDNY firefighters who showed them what “brotherhood” was all about…..including Andy Fredericks, would be killed while rescuing thousands of civilians from the World Trade Center.
Since the internet has no state boundaries, the FOOLS International website guestbook became “the” place to obtain information about FDNY members who were missing and who was still alive. Names like Dugan, Hannon, Ciampo, Salka, Fredericks, Downey and O’Connell crossed the computer screen for a couple days. These are guys that you knew would be there, they wouldn’t miss a “job” like that, no way! FDNY members would write in saying…”I saw Champ, he is OK” or “Ray is missing”. It was strange….the guestbook became the out of state search network for a week or more, for hundreds of firefighters from all across the U.S..
Many of the FOOLS were all packed up, just waiting for the word to go help out at the WTC, to help find their FDNY brothers. Most messages advised them to stay put, unless they were called as part of an organized state or regional team. Several members of the Sun Coast FOOLS did travel to ground zero to help, they just felt it was what they needed to do. One member of the Sun Coast FOOLS was in a neighboring state when the attack occurred and went directly to the site to help, arriving before noon on Sept. 11th.
In October and November of 2001, many members of the Sun Coast chapter traveled to New York to attend funerals and to deliver money collected during boot-drives here on the Sun Coast. At Andy Fredericks’ funeral, Sun Coast FOOLS members were invited into the tiny church in Suffern, NY, as thousands of others stood at attention in the freezing cold. In Wyckoff, NJ they visited the father and fiancée of missing firefighter Dana Hannon, from FDNY’s E-26. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, Sun Coast FOOLS members stood with Mayor Guiliani at one funeral. They attended dozens of funerals throughout the NY/NJ area. The Florida brothers were helping the FDNY brothers cope. The Sun Coast FOOLS forged ahead…….their mission now amplified 343 times.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU !
January of 2002 saw the planning of two significant events; the 1st annual APRIL FOOLS BASH and, instead of traveling to FDIC 2002 by airliner, a “road trip” on a charter bus to Indianapolis. Brother Gene Brown volunteered to host the APRIL FOOLS BASH and Hollins organized the FOOLS MEMORIAL BUS TRIP to FDIC in Indianapolis in April.
A group of 20 FOOLS from several Florida chapters and the International departed Florida in early April headed to FDIC. They got about 150 miles north of Manatee County on I-75 before the bus broke down, about one mile from the “Café Risque`” nude bar/restaurant in Micanopy, FL. Two engines from neighboring fire departments arrived with red lights and sirens due to the “steam” coming from the broken down bus. After realizing the bus was not on fire and that it was just a bunch of drunk firefighters, the “locals” accepted our FOOLS stickers, which were now plastered all over their engines.
With nothing to do except wait for a new bus from Bradenton, the FOOLS set up “camp”, complete with a bar, on the side of I-75 as the cars whizzed by at 80 mph. After consuming several “beverages”, it was decided to hold a FOOLS meeting. The significant event at this meeting, held around a camp fire on the shoulder of I-75, was that John “Bart” Simpson was voted on as an executive board member of FOOLS International. After a few hours, our “new” bus arrived, which took an hour to load up. We headed north again and arrived in Indianapolis at 4:30 the next afternoon……32 hours after we left Bradenton!!
The APRIL FOOLS BASH was a huge success. We also had a meeting at this event with the significant events being that we adopted the FOOLS International by-laws as our “guiding” document and our own Sun Coast FOOLS by-laws were voted on successfully. This meeting also saw the addition of two Trustees, per the by-laws……..Mike Noonan and Kevin O’Neill joined Jensen, Stulce and Hollins to make up the Sun Coast FOOLS executive board.
Tragedy would strike the FOOLS again on July 30th, 2002 when two Osceola County, Florida firefighters would be killed during a “live burn” training exercise that morning. Lt. John Mickel, who attended several FDICs with many of the FOOLS and who was one of the 20 brothers on the FOOLS MEMORIAL BUS TRIP was one of those who died. Firefighter Dallas Begg and brother Mickel both perished in a flashover. Several brother FOOLS were present at the training exercise when this tragedy occurred.
Many Sun Coast FOOLS attended one or both funerals, which were held in the Orlando area. Noticeably in attendance were some of the same names we had seen on the FOOLS website guestbook in September 2001, surviving members of FDNY who came to Florida to pay their respects and do what the FOOLS had done for them……help to cope with the loss of brother firefighters.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU !
The 2nd annual FOOL-A-PALOOZA was moved to October 2002 and was hosted by Tom Hennessy. Mike Noonan proposed a training seminar for April of 2003, to be hosted by the Sun Coast FOOLS.
Also in October of 2002, hundreds of FOOLS from across the country, including many Sun Coast FOOLS, traveled to New York to honor FDNY’s fallen firefighters at a Memorial Service held in Madison Square Garden. They were joined by tens of thousands of firefighters from around the world who marched up Manhattan’s 8th Avenue in formal dress uniform, in the pouring rain, to honor our FDNY brothers. Fittingly, it rained for three days.
In April of 2003, several FOOLS related events were held. On the weekend of the 25th, 26th & 27th, the Suncoast FOOLS hosted a FOOLS night out on Friday night, a two day firefighting operations seminar on Saturday/Sunday and the 2nd annual APRIL FOOLS BASH on Saturday night. All events were a huge success, with about 60 FOOLS attending the FOOLS night out and the seminar and about 100 guests at the APRIL FOOLS BASH, which was catered in the Clark building on the grounds of the Sarasota Fairgrounds. The Instructors for the seminar were Dan Noonan-FDNY, Bill Gustin-Miami Dade FD and John Norman-FDNY. The instruction was second to none and the weekend ended with a very emotional presentation about the events of September 11th, 2001 by John Norman, who was the rescue operations chief for most of the rescue and recovery efforts at the WTC.
Once again, the brotherhood of the Sun Coast FOOLS would be tested. On May 6th, 2003 Sun Coast FOOLS and Cedar Hammock FD member Steve Plath, 44 years old, collapsed at his home. His 7 year old son called 911 and despite all their efforts, the crews from Bradenton FD and Manatee County EMS could not save him.
On May 12th a very emotional memorial service was held for Steve at The Church Of The Cross in Bradenton. Steve’s remains rode on CHFR’s E-231 to Sta. #3, where his family emptied his locker, which had become a “shrine”, with flowers and items left there by his brother firefighters. On Thursday evening May 15th, many of Steve’s friends gathered at the monthly “Get Down, Downtown” event on Bradenton’s Main Street and toasted Steve’s life and friendship. This was done in front of The Lost Kangaroo Pub, a spot where Steve “tipped a few” with his brothers many times in the past.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU !
Yesterday, May 25th 2003, another Sun Coast FOOLS event was held. This one was kind of different from all the others…..this one included the families. The FOOLS FAMILY DAY and meeting. Jensen was sworn in as the President for another two year term and Hollins chose not to run for the Secretary/Treasurer position. Lobeto was nominated and assumed the duties of Secretary/Treasurer and executive board member. A great time was had by all.
We passed "the can" to honor “those who have died before us”, we talked about the traditions of our job, we shared the brotherhood of family and of the fire service.