Guardians are providing financial backup

Saturday, October 6, 2001

P In just four months, the group has rasied more than $100,000 to provide financial assistance to the families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Cape Girardeau's police and firefighters deserve backup, and now the Guardians are there.

In only four short months, the group -- launched after two Cape Girardeau police officers survived a shooting during a methamphetamine lab bust -- has raised $105,000 to get the organization going. The shooting incident brought home the fact that the city had no organization to provide immediate support for police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Perhaps the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks emphasized even more strongly the danger our nation's emergency workers face every day. A large number of the 5,000 missing and at least 369 dead at the World Trade Center were police and firemen on the scene helping people when the flaming towers collapsed.

Thursday marked the funeral for Capt. Terence Hatton, a New York firefighter whose wife discovered she was pregnant only after her husband died in the WTC rescue effort. Eleven of the 26 members of Hatton's rescue unit died in the disaster. Imagine the agony an added financial burden would be to their grieving relatives.

Should such a terrible thing happen in Cape Girardeau, the Guardians would provide those family members some money immediately and more after the victims' loved ones had a chance to recover from the initial shock and assess their debts. The financial assistance is intended to supplement the city's policy for police and firefighters, which pays their annual salary once. Any additional insurance must be purchased by families.

The Guardians organization is modeled after two others: Masters, which provides financial support and scholarship money for families of fallen Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers, and the St. Louis group Backstoppers, which has traditionally paid off home mortgages and granted annual stipends of $2,000 for each school-age child of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.

Perhaps the most amazing fact about the formation of the Guardians is that more than 90 charter members, who joined at $1,000 each, were on board before the events of Sept. 11 prompted perhaps an unprecedented outpouring of charity from this country. Much of the credit goes to Bob Neff, organization president, an enthusiastic leader who worked tirelessly recruiting others for the cause. And, adding another item to his laudable list of volunteer efforts, R.J. McKinney is coordinating the program.

Thousand-dollar, three-year charter memberships for the Guardians will be offered through Dec. 31. After that, $150, one-year regular memberships will be available.

Certainly, the families of men and women who protect us deserve our financial protection.

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