Firefighters and families from all across the nation amassed at Reliant Stadium June 5 to pay their respects and mourn the deaths of four Houston firefighters killed in a massive motel fire. Three of the firefighters were killed when the roof at Southwest Inn on U.S. Highway 59 collapsed, and a fourth died after being rushed to the hospital.
“They were risking their lives to save the community,” Fire Chief Terry Garrison told KHOU Channel 11 News. “Unfortunately, the building had much more fire than we originally thought. The structure collapsed.”
Stories like this remind us of the heroism and bravery of the men and women who protect us from the felons and the flames day and night. It also reminds us that they are not immune to such fates.
“You never know when you go to work as a firefighter if you’re going to come home the next day,” said Anne Huff, fire chief of Beaumont Fire and Rescue. “You can go to an event and assume it’s going to be just like another fire that you fought before, and something can happen unexpectedly. It can be your last day.”
And when unforeseen tragedy does happen, it can take a great toll on the surviving spouse and children.
“There’s anguish and fear when losing a loved one or spouse in the line of duty,” Jefferson County Sheriff Mitch Woods said.
Renee Lane Bell, whose husband, Beaumont Police Department Sergeant James Michael Lane, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2004, said she knows this feeling all too well.
“When something like that happens, you have so much to think about,” Lane Bell said. “It’s tough … such a terrible time.”
Friday, May 31, the 100 Club of Southeast Texas, a 501(c)3 charity celebrating its 25th anniversary at the second annual Southeast Texas Motorcop Rodeo and 100 Club Sponsor Dinner, announced it had reached the $1 million mark in funds raised.
Jon Reaud, president of The 100 Club of Southeast Texas, said it was an uphill climb to reach such an ambitious milestone, and it could not have been done without the tireless efforts of so many volunteers. Reaud specifically spoke of Zack Shelton, Warren Claybar and Joe Penland and their commitment to the organization and the families it will help.
“We really could not have done this without their hard work and dedication. Two years ago, we were sitting at a little under $500,000 in our fund,” Reaud said.
Reaud, Shelton, Claybar and Penland began calling on corporate sponsors, and together with the support of businesses and generous individuals, were able to raise more than $500,000 in the last two years.
Shelton said, “The Motorcop (Rodeo) came to us in January and said we’d like y’all to be the charity for this event. It was a marriage made in heaven. This was the biggest fundraising event the 100 Club ever had by far.”
The Southeast Texas Motorcop Rodeo, which took place June 1 at Ford Park, raised more than $140,000, not counting concessions, entry fees, etc., Shelton said.
“The traffic unit and the police department decided that this would be a great partnership, especially since it benefits first responders. Most of the proceeds (from the vendors) go to the 100 Club, and there (was) an opportunity (at the event) to donate to the 100 Club,” said Chris Cunningham, who is an officer in Beaumont Police Department’s Traffic Unit and police coordinator for the rodeo.
Along with funds from the Motorcop Rodeo event, several corporate sponsors also contributed. YMBL, The Modern Group, TransCanada, Quality Mat Company and the Reaud Foundation each contributed $25,000; Beaumont Firefighters Local 399 contributed $18,000; Claybar Funeral Home contributed $10,000, while Cotton Cargo, K.A.T. Excavation & Construction, Kinsel Ford, Giglio Distributing, Granger Chevrolet and Universal Coin & Bullion each contributed $5,000.
Shelton said the money raised by the 100 Club of Southeast Texas will continue to go to spouses and children of fallen first responders who need funds to move on with their lives after experiencing devastating tragedies.
“When my husband died, they were there (for me) the very next day,” Lane Bell said. “For them to support you financially takes such a huge weight off of your shoulders.”
The 100 Club of Southeast Texas pays a financial death benefit to the spouse and/or surviving dependent children of a fallen first responder. A representative of the club will visit with family members within 48 hours of a tragedy and quickly distribute benefits, the 100 Club of Southeast Texas website states. In 2006, the club extended those eligible for donations to firefighters, paid and volunteer, as well as game wardens, FBI and other law enforcement agents. For more information about the 100 Club of Southeast Texas, visit www.100clubsetx.com  or call (409) 893-5444.