Firefighter’s legacy lives on in form of lifesaving equipment


rank Buonanotte (left), founder of 500 For Life, presents a commemorative plaque and a new thermal imaging camera to Huntington Fire Chief Matthew Armstrong (center) and Huntington Mayor Steve Updike at the Southside Fire Station in Huntington on Jan. 21. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Originally published on Jan. 25, 2010.

The legacy of a retired Fort Wayne firefighter will live on in the form of a lifesaving thermal imaging camera donated to the Huntington Fire Department, thanks to a joint effort by the firefighter's friends and family and 500 For Life.

Frank Buonanotte, founder of 500 For Life, presented the camera to Huntington Mayor Steve Updike and Huntington Fire Chief Matthew Armstrong in memory of the late Capt. Donald K. Derrow during a ceremony at the Southside Fire Station in Huntington on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Donald Derrow's partner, Barbara Nix Porter of Punta Gorda, FL, and formerly of Huntington, and his sister, Marie Derrow of Jamestown, OH, were present to witness the ceremony.

"My brother would have loved this donation," Marie Derrow said.

Donald Derrow, a veteran of the Fort Wayne Fire Department, died July 25, 2009, after retiring to Florida in 1999. It was in Florida that Donald met Porter, who refers to Donald as her "gentleman friend."
Upon Donald's death, Porter suggested the concept of friends and family making donations to 500 For Life in lieu of flowers after reading about the organization in a Reader's Digest article.

When Porter contacted 500 For Life to make arrangements for the donations, Buonanotte asked if Porter would rather a donation of a camera be made in Florida or Indiana. Porter requested Indiana, and when Buonanotte found that Porter hailed from Huntington, it was decided - Huntington would be the recipient of the new camera.
Buonanotte contacted Armstrong and told the Huntington fire chief of the donation. Armstrong was skeptical.

"I had to ask what the catch was," Armstrong said.

Buonanotte told Armstrong that the only requirements for receiving the camera were that the Huntington Fire Department had to display a plaque signifying that the camera was given in memory of Donald Derrow, and that the department submit a letter to 500 For Life.

"To me, that was not a catch," said Armstrong as he showed his appreciation for the donation.

The camera will be taken out with HFD trucks, and will also be taken to other jurisdictions to assist other departments that do not have the technology.

"We will use this camera to help save lives," Armstrong said as he looked at Porter, Marie Derrow and Buonanotte. "Without people like you, a donation like this would not have been possible."

The new camera, valued at $12,500, is the 38th and latest donation 500 For Life has made in the United States, and the HFD is the first department in Indiana to receive a camera from the organization.

Buonanotte says that chances of survival for firefighters and victims dramatically increase with the capabilities of a thermal imaging camera.

"With the camera, 99 percent of the time firefighters can find comrades and victims," he says.

Buonanotte founded 500 For Life in 2007 after watching a History Channel documentary entitled "Into the Fire," which revealed the brutal environment firefighters face when entering a burning building. Part of the documentary featured the use of the thermal imaging technology and the benefits it provided to firefighters.

However, the cameras can cost upwards of $10,000, so Buonanotte started thinking of ways to help.

Buonanotte first bought a number of thermal imaging cameras himself, and then began asking people he knew to donate $500 to the lifesaving cause, hence the name, "500 For Life."

"Most of us take it for granted that a fire truck will show up ... and they do," Buonanotte said in reference to the dependability of firefighting personnel in times of emergency. "But all too often, they do so by giving up their own lives."

500 For Life has grown to include partnerships with other foundations that deal with fire departments to prioritize which departments would benefit the most from the cameras.

The Atlanta, GA-based non-profit organization uses all proceeds towards purchasing the cameras. All funding for marketing, advertising and other costs associated with 500 For Life comes directly from Buonanotte's own pocket, so as to help as many fire departments as possible. So far, 500 For Life has raised more than half a million dollars toward the effort.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fire kills more people in the United States each year than any other form a natural disaster, and Buonanotte's goal is to reduce that statistic as much as possible.

And in Huntington, the new camera will help Buonanotte's goal become reality in addition to honoring Donald Derrow and his fellow firefighters.

"Don loved being a firefighter," Porter said. "This way he still is fighting fires."

To donate to 500 For Life, or for more information about the program, visit www.500forlife.org.