Local Donors Support a New Foundation and Bellevue Fire Department’s Protection of Bridle Trails

From the July 2022 edition of STROLL Bridle Trails

Our Bridle Trails community is special in its abundance of trees and foliage. Large lots give an extensive tree canopy. Bridle Trails State Park has 489 acres open for daily use. However, increased park usage and more housing density combined with possible higher summer temperatures create potential challenges for the Bellevue Fire Department. The department is tasked to be prepared not only to respond to fires but to all potential emergencies regarding safety, medical, and even civil unrest.

As challenges increase over time, Bellevue’s Fire Department needs to meet those challenges.

In December of 2019, these realities motivated Bellevue Fire Chief Jay Hagen to reach out to local fundraising consultant Laura McCloud Mathers about establishing The Amazon check of $250,000 being presented. a foundation that could provide additional financial support for his department. While exploring the possibility, the global pandemic hit, and economic uncertainty caused that effort to be put on hold.

When violent protests in many cities during the summer of 2020 presented a new risk for firefighters, Hagen asked Mathers for help raising money for bulletproof vests and helmets for his firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics. Mathers has held several leadership positions at nonprofit foundations, including, most recently, the Seattle Police Foundation. She activated her network and was able to raise funding for the equipment within a week from local benefactors, including Kemper Freeman, Bruce McCaw, and Jim Sinegal.

As a result of the fundraising effort, which reached $80,000, and such a positive response from the community, Mathers founded the 501(c)3 Bellevue Fire Foundation in November 2020.

Bellevue Fire Department responded to over 23,000 calls in 2021 for medical emergencies, motor vehicle collisions, and all types of fires, including some in rugged, wooded locations.

The Foundation and the Fire Department are working together to meet the department’s needs and involve communities through awareness, education, and fundraising activities.

Although Bellevue’s Fire Department is well funded, many areas could be enhanced to better equip and prepare for emergencies and disasters. One of those areas is wildfire prevention and response.

The launch of this spring’s fundraising campaign is to purchase a customized $300,000 wildfire brush truck. Also known as a Type 6 wildland fire engine, it has an onboard water tank and is lighter and more maneuverable than a traditional fire engine. Brush trucks enable firefighters to battle fast-moving fires in wooded areas and rough terrain — like Bridle Trails.

Chief Hagen is concerned “about the increasing threat of wildfire, especially in what we call the ‘wildland-urban interface’ – those beautiful parks and trails in and among heavily forested areas. The most significant wildfire seasons in our state’s history occurred in recent years and we all experienced the heat dome last summer. Though significant wildfires west of the Cascades have been rare, under these changing conditions, I absolutely know this could happen here.”

In 2021, the state Department of Natural Resources reported that 40% of wildfires in two of the last three years occurred west of the Cascades. Remember the 2020 fires at Sumner and Bonney Lake south of Bellevue?

“This is why I want to acquire a Type 6 wildland fire engine and get it deployed as soon as possible,” says Chief Hagen.

The Bellevue Fire Foundation received a challenge grant of $150,000 from Amazon as part of the company’s $250,000 donation to support the Foundation’s mission. “We share a sense of community here in Bellevue and the responsibility to be good neighbors and stewards of our beautiful city,” Pearl Leung, Amazon’s head of community affairs said at the brush truck fundraising kickoff campaign. “When we learned the need for a brush truck, we knew we had to do our part.”

The goal is to raise funding to have the truck on the ground in time for summer wildfire season, typically in August and September,” Mathers added. “We welcome individual, corporate, and foundation donations to the brush truck campaign and future initiatives to ensure the Bellevue Fire Department is a well-equipped global leader of fire and emergency services ready to address modern day challenges.”

The foundation will be participating in the Bridle Trails Annual Night Out on August 10. There will also be a “Breakfast with the Chief” this fall at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.

These ongoing efforts benefit Bridle Trails.

You can learn more about the foundation’s work and how to donate at BellevueFireFoundation.org.

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