By Bree Sison, WBZ-TV
BOSTON (CBS) – When her son Michael Kennedy died, Kathy Crosby-Bell had the unenviable calm of someone who had been through this before.
Kathy’s husband, and Michael’s stepfather, Rick, died in 1993.
“I was so grief stricken that it really impacted everyone around me,” Kathy recounts. “Michael said the worst thing that ever happened to him was how hurt I was.”
Then in March 2014, Michael died alongside Boston Fire Lt. Edward Walsh, while the pair tried to knock down a 9-alarm blaze in the Back Bay.
“The outpouring from the public was absolutely amazing,” Crosby-Bell told WBZ-TV of the city’s response to Michael’s death. “People were so kind and so caring. It occurred to me, you know what, people want to do something to help. Let’s tell them what it is that needs to be done.”
For the past 18 months, Crosby-Bell channeled her grief into The Last Call Foundation, a non-profit she set up to honor her son’s memory.
“Michael had such a soft heart. ‘I’d say ‘oh my gosh how many things can you do?’ But it was what I admired most about him. So I decided that’s the part of him I’m going to keep alive.”
Since Michael’s death, The Last Call Foundation has raised over half a million dollars to fund safety equipment and research for firefighters. It’s money many cities do not have in their budgets these days.
The foundation’s first grant provided Worcester Polytecnic Institute with $75,000 to research how often fire hoses burn through, a hazard Kathy feels contributed to Michael’s death.
“The fact that fire hose isn’t fireproof was so shocking to me,” said Crosby-Bell. Contributing to the research and development of the next generation fire hose is a priority for the foundation.
But other priorities have come along too.
Last Call gave nearly $300,000 to the Boston Sparks to help pay for a canteen truck that will keep firefighters hydrated on scene. Returning to a burning building without proper food, water and rest, puts firefighters at greater risk for injury.
Additionally, Last Call contributed around $200,000 to the Boston Fire Department for the purchase of special washing machines that pull cancer causing carcinogens off firefighter’s gear.
In the coming year, Last Call hopes to complete the purchase of those washing machines for the city’s 32 firehouses, and also fund dryers for the gear.
A team of Boston Marathon runners provided the bulk of their fundraising efforts this first year. The foundation’s second annual gala on Tuesday at the Revere Hotel may give them a boost going into 2016.
The group might need deep pockets to achieve it’s next aim. This year, the firefighter’s mother envisions an all-out campaign to revamp fire department budgets across the state.
“If we want to keep the fire service together, because it’s literally crumbling, keep in mind these buildings are falling apart, we have to figure out a way to fund them. There needs to be a dedicated revenue source,” she said.
Crosby-Bell is meeting with lawmakers to discuss firefighter safety and is considering a ballot initiative to find that dedicated revenue source.
“We need to give them as much protection, as much equipment [as possible] and train them properly how to use it. [We would] be bringing some respect and dignity to them. And they deserve it. They’ve earned it,” she said.
WBZ-TV is a proud sponsor for the Last Call Foundation’s gala. Tickets are available at lastcallfoundation.org/events