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Tina Johnson of LFRF

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Loudoun County First Responders Helps Heroes Heal

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

When a Sterling home fire killed one Loudoun firefighter and sent three others to the hospital in February, Tina Johnson was among the first civilians to find out about it. In part, that's because she heads the Loudoun First Responders Foundation (LFRF), an all-volunteer organization that helps support first responders in need. The other reason she knew was because her own son Michael is a volunteer firefighter with the Sterling station that was on call that night.

“My phone began ringing that evening,” she recalls. “As president of the foundation I’m the direct liaison with all the first responder agencies from Sheriff to police to fire – all of them know to call me directly when there’s a need.” Shortly after the news of the tragedy broke, both the Loudoun County Government and Loudoun County Fire and Rescue announced that LFRF was the official charity of choice for anyone wishing to support the injured, their families or the family of the fallen firefighter Trevor Brown. “So, within a 48-hour period, I’d say I received more than 100 phone calls and began managing a flood of emails from people wanting to help.”

Then too came the news media. Tina quickly spread the word asking people to refrain from launching their own GoFundMe pages because “there was no way for us to authenticate which were real.” The foundation immediately set up a restricted fund so anyone could direct their giving directly to the Brown family and the other injured firefighters. In practice, Tina made the executive decision that every penny raised in the first 30 days following the incident would be directed towards firefighters and their families who were impacted.

“We wanted to be able to support Trevor Brown's family but we knew that there were also 10 other first responders injured and that some of them have a long road of recovery ahead of them. We needed to make sure we had resources that would be there to support them in their time of need immediately, but also in the months to come.”

One volunteer firefighter, Brian Diamond, 43, was in the burn unit for more than a month and only returned home March 20. Both he and his wife are schoolteachers supporting four children aged 8 and younger, and need help just to pay bills while Brian heals.

Having the LFRF in place to serve as clearing house and supportive arm for all the local organizations who wanted to hold fundraisers allowed Loudoun Fire and Rescue to redirect their energy and focus to taking care of their own who were injured. “Just being able to channel through our foundation all incoming inquiries was a help,” Tina says. In so doing, the foundation stepped up as a purely voluntary organization. “We have no paid staff or office. We receive no federal or local government funding. We were all juggling running our own businesses!”

Among the organization’s board members are business leaders like Tony Howard, president and CEO of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce; Eric Retzlaff, managing director of Northwest Mutual in Reston; Lori Reif, owner of Executive Gift Planners; Jennifer Andos, president of Paperfish Creative, LLC;  Kelly Featheringham, president and CEO of Team Leadership Solutions LLC; Bruce Rahmani, president of Falcon Heating and Air Conditioning; Marlo Thomas Watson, president of The Marlo Companies and Julie Shaheen, founder of Stanford Design Consulting. Board member Laura Rinehart is also public information officer of the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue System, and Kris Olson is president of the RHLOC (Real Husbands of Loudoun County) Foundation, which together with ResQ BBQ was hosting a fundraiser as we went to press.

Even under its “100% voluntary” constraints, LFRF was able to cut checks to families within hours of receiving a request, minus any red tape. “I have the checkbook right beside me and once I get the request for financial support, I review it, it goes to the executive board and as soon as three of our executive board members approve it, I write the check.” First responders need only fill out an application, pass it to their direct report, and then Fire Chief Keith Johnson signs off on it. So, Tina explains, “when the request comes to us, we feel like they've done their due diligence, and we’re confident this is someone who really needs the support.” Someone from the fire department will often come pick up a check to deliver it where it’s needed.

Donations have covered mortgage payments, grocery bills, unexpected medical bills and, yes, the cost of Trevor Brown’s funeral, attended by more than 3,000 including first responders from across the country. Beyond the immediate needs, LFRF is committed to help families get back on their feet while their heroes heal.

“We want first responders to put all of their energy into getting better, not being stressed out about paying their mortgage and making their car payments and paying their medical bills and all those things we take for granted every day. If it's helping them to make sure they have enough money coming in to cover their life expenses, that's going to help them recover quicker, so that's what we're here to do,” Tina said.

Beyond the immediate crisis, since its founding in 2005, the foundation has donated more than 85 scholarships to first responders and their children. Applications are open now for up to 12 scholarships of $1,000 each and one scholarship – the Stu Plitman Memorial Scholarship named for the organization’s founder – in the amount of $5,000, for 2024.

Because of the group’s non-existent overhead, Tina says, every dollar donated is a measure of the appreciation givers have for what first responders do for their community every day. Tina’s own background includes being an emergency room nurse, so she understands the emotional needs of first responders as well.

October is National First Responders Awareness Month, and the foundation has made an annual practice of delivering gift baskets to every crew in every department in Loudoun County in the course of a single day. “People don’t realize that there are people in our county who work a 9-5 job and then report to a station to work 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. We make sure we visit every one of them and say thank you, we appreciate you,” Tina said. The foundation also hosts family nights at local sports arenas and other events to celebrate them. “Some of them can't even afford to live in our county, so if they've got a family of three or four, they may not be able to afford to spend $150 or $200 to go to an activity in the county. That's why, throughout the year, we always want to hold celebration events to recognize them and just thank them in a fun environment.”

Donating is easy; see

  • Tina Johnson of LFRF
  • Firefighter Diamond's Joyful Homecoming

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