On July 3rd, 2010, Jake LaFerriere was at work as a second-generation firefighter with the Minneapolis, Minnesota fire department when the alarm rang for a call. He put on the fire suit, hopped on a truck, and went to work. Arriving at a three-story house in southeast Minneapolis, they saw smoke showing in the building and went about their typical business. LaFerriere and his captain climbed up and punched into a wall. Until that moment, it was a fireman just going to work.
But in an instant, all of that changed. A backdraft went off, exploding the building and injuring the duo. Jake had suffered third and fourth degree burns to hands, second degree burns to his back and arms, and injured limbs.
For the next month and a half, he recovered in a burn unit. Undergoing treatment, he encountered some youngsters, and even though his firefighting career was over, the next chapter was just beginning.
"While I was there, I met two little guys who were three and five (years old) who turned out to be my angels," he said. "They gave me the strength and support to get through that challenge in my life. At the same time, my firefighter brothers were trying to raise some money for my captain and me because they didn't know what our well-being was going to be. We wound up with a bunch of money and I just felt really that we needed to do something for (these kids)."
The money donated, Firefighters for Healing was born.
The charity provides support to young burn survivors and their families in ways that insurance companies and caretakers are unable to. On Friday, in conjunction with the American Heroes Channel and the Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust, Jake LaFerriere will receive the first ever Red Bandanna Hero Award on the turf at Alumni Stadium during the Boston College-Florida State football game. The Red Bandanna Hero Award pays tribute to Welles Remy Crowther, a Boston College graduate who saved as many as 12 people during the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the subject of the ESPN short "The Man In The Red Bandanna."
As part of the award, American Heroes Channel will donate $10,000. Along with that, Jake will be featured in an AHC "Hero Moment" video which will be aired on the network and online at AHCTV.com. The promo video can be found by clicking here.
"I look at this as our organization together accepting this award," he said. "There are everyday heroes who do things every day to help people. I don't look at myself any more different than anyone else who is out there as hero. I'm just going to accept this to help more people."
The charity itself has been warmly received by all of those who it helps. Recently, he went up to a burn unit to visit with a couple of impacted youngsters. One of the children was there recovering after falling in a fire pit and receiving burns over half of his body. Having undergone numerous surgeries and with more on the horizon, Firefighters for Healing managed to bring the child some happiness with a delivery of a Batman that, according to Jake, was "bigger than me!"
Later on, he was visiting with a youth who the doctors described as not saying much, living mostly within a shell. After a visit, the doctors later described the child as coming out of his room to show his toys to the doctors and nurses on the unit. It was the first of that kind of interaction they had witnessed.
"There are stories that go on and on," said Jake. "There's a lot of tears, and the reaction is just unbelievable."
With all of this in mind, Jake will receive an award named for the iconic red bandanna celebrated as a symbol of courage. "A year ago, I met a unique guy at a fundraiser of ours, and that's when I first learned of Welles," said Jake. "So I went on the computer like everyone else and looked him up and I read stories. And I kept learning and learning and learning.
"This is one of the most powerful days of my life," he continued. "It took me ten years to get on the fire department (in Minneapolis) and this is better than that. It's because this is really coming full circle as to why I was hurt. It's in the name of someone like Welles, who I want to model after and someone I want to be like. It's just an honor. I'm thrilled, and I'm blessed. I can't express the amount of gratitude that is felt truly in our hearts and our souls."