Taking care of those who take care of us was a focus during Wednesday's Fire Fighters Day at the Missouri state Capitol, an annual event that recognizes the role firefighters and EMS personnel play in protecting Missourians.
Missouri's more than 24,000 career and volunteer fire service members work in more than 850 departments.
Gov. Mike Parson joined other law enforcement leaders Wednesday at the Capitol in saluting fire service members and, in particular, the Missouri Fire Service Funeral Assistance Team.
"Shortly after I became governor, team members told me that sometimes the process of getting benefits to families of those who have lost a loved one was taking too much time," Parson said. "In some cases, it was over a year. Only because the team stepped up and told me about this were we able to expedite the process to get the benefits to survivor families much faster."
Started in 2005 by Capt. Brian Zinanni of the Clayton Fire Department, the team has five trailers and volunteers to man them, stationed across the state. Zinanni was given special recognition with a plaque from his fellow team members during Wednesday's ceremony.
"I'm so proud of each of our team members and what they do for these families," Zinanni said. "You donate your time to make sure our survivors are taken care of. They helped make this vision a reality."
After Wednesday's ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Parson had team members visit his office for a group picture. There he told them about how he personally knew the toll it takes on a department, having lost a team member while he served as Polk County sheriff. He also lost a brother-in-law, who was an EMT who died in the line of duty.
Parson pledged to do all he could so the team wouldn't have to go through bureaucracy to get benefits survivors need.
When a line-of-duty death occurs, and on request of the agency sustaining the loss, a team would be deployed immediately. The team serves in a behind-the-scenes capacity and offers suggestions based on what the department's needs are, as well as the needs of the firefighter's family. Team members have a timeline of things to be done within hours of the tragedy to ensure the ability to maximize benefits and assist the agency with legalities that occur with a line-of-duty death. The team stays in place at the agency, sometimes for several days, until funeral services are completed.
The duties of the team do not end there, they provide information to the department on an as needed basis to assist the family and department beyond the funeral services.
The team will respond with many of the necessary items to facilitate a firefighters funeral service. Departments will not be burdened to acquire these items, as they will be provided for the departments' use. A funeral service guide has been established to assist the family and department in choosing options to fit the services they desire.
The Funeral Assistance Team works solely on funding donations and volunteer of time. Donations can be made payable to and sent to: Missouri Fire Service Funeral Assistance Team, 716 N. Elm Ave., St. Louis, MO, 63119.
For more information about the team, visit mofirefuneral.org.