I wrote a little while back about doing the “right thing”. If ya missed that post, you can find it by clicking HERE . I’ve also been reading a lot of posts and comments on Face Book threads speaking of “transparency” and “full disclosure”. I’ve been seeing these comments etc in The Officer’s Club, a “closed group” on Face Book that I used to be a part of. I’m no longer part of that group. Tonight’s post is about “doing the right thing” and being as “transparent” as possible. It may take me a while but let me try to explain what’s on my mind ….
The “Officer’s Club” (link) is part of the National Firefighters Endowment (link) and the NFE is a group that I’ve supported for some time now. Rhett (aka FireCritic.com) and I have actually served as 2 of the only 4 “Advisory Board” members since it’s inception. For the most part, it’s been a huge honor.
From the “about” page of their web site … “National Firefighters Endowment is a non-profit, public charity with a driving passion to protect the lives of our firefighters. We believe that small actions can have life altering results and that the right equipment in the hands of our heroes can literally be the difference between life and death.”
True to it’s mission, the NFE has accomplished some great things over the past few years and gotten tools and equipment into the hands of firefighters! In it’s latest venture, the NFE provided over $150,000.00 worth of much needed equipment to the firefighters of Detroit. It was an unprecedented event and drew National attention.
Ironically, Detroit is where I resigned from my position as an Advisory Board member. Unfortunately, I was not the only one to leave that night.
Bob Gard, who was a “work horse” behind the Detroit Mutual Aid project ; also relinquished his post that night (Bob also sat on the Advisory Board and was an Officer Club supporter at the Captain level). These were not easy decisions.
I say it was “ironic” that I left in Detroit because that’s exactly what it was. It was ironic because the Detroit Mutual Aid project could arguably be described as the NFE’s largest success to date. I say “arguably” because, in my mind; the even smaller grants issued to “small town USA” Departments (from the NFE) held as much (if not more) value as the grants delivered to larger municipal Departments. Anyway, my point here is that it seems “ironic” that Bob and I decided to quit in our biggest, brightest moment. There was good reason.
This was the first time that all 4 Advisory Board members had been assembled in one place (face to face) with NFE President / Executive Director, Shane Parkins . The Members were Rhett Fleitz, Andrew Catron, Bob Gard and myself.
We had a meeting the night before we left Detroit. We wanted to critique the Detroit Mutual Aid project as well as to discuss some of the MANY questions each of us had been contemplating for some time. We had a lot of ground to cover.
The Detroit Mutual Aid project was a huge success but there were several mistakes made and a lot of room left for improvement. We mostly spoke about management, leadership and organizational issues. A lot of good points were brought up although I’m not sure they were heard.
You know the old saying “I know you can hear me but I’m not sure you’re listening”? That’s kind of how I felt during the meeting and this wasn’t the first time I had felt this way.
There are approx 170 members of the Officer’s Club who have MONTHLY DUES deducted from their bank accounts. There is an untold number of Capital One Credit Card holders who support the NFE with every purchase and that’s not counting the time and labor MANY of these folks contribute.
As Advisory Board members, Rhett, Bob, Andrew and I did NOT take these contributions / sacrifices lightly. We understood where the money was coming from and wanted to assure it was being spent in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible while meeting the mission of the NFE. In my opinion, it didn’t always happen that way.
We had learned that 72 firefighters had suffered a significant loss while 24 of them from that area lost EVERYTHING.
The tornado killed 23 people (including 7 children from Plaza Towers Elementary School) and wounded approx 370 more.
The NFE quickly launched a t-shirt campaign and began raising funds. Shane worked around all the ‘red tape” and arranged to make a payment directly to IAFF Local #157 to assure the funds made it into the hands of Brothers Cook and Whitehose (the only two members from L-157 who lost everything). He even hired a videographer to document the project.
The project was as big a disaster as Moore itself.
If I remember correctly, the logo for the shirt was taken (without permission) from a baseball team (note the baseball bat nose) in Omaha. They found out about it. The logo was modified several times and then, it was agreed that a percentage from each shirt sold would be paid to the team (for use of their logo). That was money that could and SHOULD have been spent on the firefighters of Moore! Of course, there was some big, elaborate answer as to why it had to be that way (I’ve gotten a lot of those over the past few years).
So, I made it Oklahoma and waited several hours in the airport for Shane’s arrival. I quickly learned that there was NO AGENDA … no plan. We didn’t even have a rental car reserved. Of course the car wasn’t a big deal because we really didn’t have anywhere to go. We didn’t even have hotel reservations! You fly people into Oklahoma from as far away as Virginia and California, on a project THIS important; and don’t even have transportation or lodging established? I began to wonder what kind of organization I had signed on with.
The logistic nightmares continued. In the end, we delivered the money (a very small amount in my opinion) and captured an unbelievable story. A STORY THAT HAS YET TO BE TOLD! Have you seen the video? Me either! How much money did we take out of those Oklahoma firefighter’s hands to pay for that video, the travel and all the screw ups? I haven’t received a straight answer to that question still today but I’ll bet ya that it wasn’t cheap. This could have been the NFE’s first project the size of Detroit Mutual Aid …. IT WAS THAT BIG OF A DEAL! It ended in failure and I can’t help but to think … “at who’s expense”?
Bob seen a lot of the same issues later on as he assisted in dealing with Hurricane Sandy Relief through the NFE. Again, a lot of good things were being accomplished but the same problems and questions also kept resurfacing.
The NFE (and Officer’s Club) was growing and putting itself more and more in the eyes and faces of firefighters all across the Country. Again I’ll say that a LOT of good things were being accomplished but now, the questions were coming from a larger audience and the stakes were becoming higher.
answers replies all seemed the same (I’m not sure we’ve ever received an answer). Some sort of excuse or redirection. There was always an explanation but never any OWNERSHIP.
The NFE’s “non-profit” status remains a big issue with many. Again I’ll quote from the NFE web page … “National Firefighters Endowment is a non-profit, public charity with a driving passion to protect the lives of our firefighters.”
I don’t believe this statement to be accurate because Shane has personally told me about the NFE loosing that status. Of course it was then explained that it was due to a simple clerical error and would take a while to get back.
So why is that statement (“non-profit) still up on the site? Is that not misleading? Do you realize that the donations you may be making right now may NOT be tax deductible?
That’s when we started talking about the money.
We asked point blank … “how much money did the NFE take in last year vs paid out?”. He (Shane) said he didn’t know. HE DIDN’T KNOW!?!
Ok … how about the year previous? Again … he didn’t know!
Give us a guess I said …. he couldn’t. So, we asked about the tax returns …. You would have to know the numbers (or at least a ball park figure) from the tax returns right? NOPE! NOT A CLUE!
Wait …. you did file taxes didn’t you? Then we got some long story about how all the finances were lost on a computer. So has the NFE EVER filed taxes or not? He continued to tell us that he had someone “rebuilding” the finances so he could get all of that in order. Rebuilding them? Who is this person? Are they just making up numbers or do they have something to go by? BECAUSE …. if they have something to go by…. that’s what we (the Advisory Board) want to see / review. If they don’t have “something” to go by then how legitimate is this process?
What about Shane’s salary? How much did he make last year? You guessed it …. another song and dance. We heard how much he’s struggling (and then seen his trip to Disney on Face Book once we left Detroit) but never got a straight answer. Who else reading this doesn’t know what they made last year or where it came from?
We asked about receipts ….at least he had a box full of receipts somewhere right? … NOPE. How are we tracking ANY of this? Shane did then admit a weakness in the accounting department…..lol.. yea… ya think?
Ok … let’s back up. The Officer’s Club …. where does all that money go (remember approx 170 members with monthly dues)? How is it dispersed and to where? Another song and dance.
How about the credit card money? The money from helmet sales through Rescue Swag? Detroit Mutual Aid was paid for with money from THAT project alone (tee-shirt sales and Bob Gard working his “magic” with vendors etc). We’re talking the possibility of several thousands of dollars coming into the NFE on a monthly basis … where is it going?
Again we get the song and dance about the lost computer files and someone rebuilding the finances. There are NO OTHER EMPLOYEES OF THE NFE (none that we are aware of anyway). I say that because there is nobody else who could know these numbers. Nobody else with the answers to our questions. The is no other “department” to be referred to. Shane Parkins is solely responsible.
We talked about how it seemed to us that the NFE was operating paycheck to paycheck (or project to project in this case). It seems as if following a project, everything is quiet until the money runs out and then it is a mad rush / panic to jump on the next “cause”. What percentage of the projects is even held back for operating costs etc? Any? Is it a set percentage for each project / grant or just whatever he feels like (or needs) at the time? Who even approves the grants and on what basis? Not the Advisory Board.
We explained that this is no way to run a company …. especially one where you are taking money OUT of the pockets of firefighters. Again we received smoke and mirrors …. song and dance.
Shane was either avoiding the questions because there was “something” to hide or he honestly just didn’t know. Either way, I knew right then that I was in a bad situation. Had I misplaced my trust?
Here’s the other part (and maybe the worst). I have promoted the NFE for a long time now. I’ve helped draw new members and support to the organization. Folks who are taking money out of their pockets. Folks who will travel to Oklahoma, New Jersey, Detroit or wherever they may feel needed. Some of these folks have the same questions and concerns as I. Do I not have a responsibility to try to get them an honest answer? If they joined because of me …. why can’t I tell them where their money is going? Why can’t I answer their questions? Why can’t I get those same answers from the only person who would know?
SO, I resigned my position that night. Bob Gard did as well. Rhett and Andrew stayed on because Shane promised some answers to the finances within two weeks. They (Rhett and Andrew) were our only remaining link to solving the puzzle of scam vs. poor management.
What troubled me next was how Shane handled it. Not all the song and dance he gave us in the room that night (and months prior) but how he handled the issue once back home.
He posted on The Officer’s Club’s Face Book page (a closed group) making Bob out to be the “bad guy” (see that post in the picture left). Some of the comments were even more disheartening.
Bob Gard is NOT the “bad guy” in this situation. Without Bob, Detroit Mutual Aid would not have been near the success it was. His efforts were unmatched by any other member. Bob played a key role in turning the approx $50,000 from tee-shirt sales into $150,000 worth of equipment (remember, the money for this project came from the tee-shirts …. not membership dues, credit cards, helmet sales etc)!
Someone had already removed Bob from the group so he couldn’t even reply or defend himself. A “conflict of interest”? Maybe it was …. Bob wanted to see / know the finances and Shane couldn’t / wouldn’t provide them!
I will add here that Rhett did NOT formulate a more formal response at the time ( I do have a comment from him at the end of this post). We were both sickened by this whole ordeal and uncertain of exactly how to respond.
Having still not received any solid answers to our questions, a couple weeks following Detroit Mutual Aid; Rhett and Andrew also resigned their positions from the Advisory Board.
THINK ABOUT THAT ….. ALL FOUR ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL FIREFIGHTERS ENDOWMENT HAVE RESIGNED! That fact alone should raise question / concern.
Shane has since openly promised a new direction … a rebuild for the Officer’s Club …NOT the NFE as a whole and still without disclosing the Advisory Board’s resignations. There was to be a conference call so each and every member (of the OC) could take part.
IT NEVER HAPPENED! More smoke and mirrors …. song and dance? Instead of the call, he said he was going to work on making a video so everyone could / would have access to the info (in case they couldn’t make the call). Guess what… NO VIDEO (imagine that).
I am glad to see that he’s apparently been working on some restructuring of the Officer’s Club here lately. I believe they have recently established a board and some organization / structure. This could (and may) be a step in the right direction but I’ll add / offer this… IT’S JUST THE OFFICER’S CLUB. This is NOT the NFE, only a part of it.
It’s rumored that the OC (Officer’s Club) will be broken into regions and funded by the money they raise within that region themselves. How much will trickle up to the NFE? How much will trickle down? How much will the NFE contribute to each region or their projects? Who chooses which “grant” to fund or not fund?
Who or how will the NFE be funded (not the OC … the NFE)? The credit cards? The helmet sales? If the NFE “folds” then will the OC go under as well? Again …. the OC is just a “branch” or “department” of the National Firefighters Endowment.
There are STILL valid questions out there that need to be asked and answered. Who is Shane accountable to? Will he answer the finance questions to an OC board member? I doubt it because all they’re entitled to is the finances from the OC (which they haven’t even established yet) …. they’re NOT on the NFE board…. they are on the “OC” board.
I’ll add here that I don’t have a problem with the NFE being “for profit”. I actually think it should be! I understand there are bills that need to be paid (operating costs, insurance etc). I also understand that Shane has to make a living. He has a wife and family to provide for. My problem lies with the uncertainty …. with the unanswered and avoided questions.
I write this post because I’m not sure where the NFE will go from here. I hope they far exceed everyone’s expectations and continue on to greater accomplishments. I have my doubts. I write it because many of you have contributed or supported the NFE in part because of my endorsement and, at this point; the NFE no longer has that. I’m not asking you to stop or pull your support / endorsement but I am asking you to be educated and wise in your decisions. I also want you to know both sides of the story. I didn’t want to simply state that I had resigned my position and that I plan to “distance” myself from the organization without giving some sort of an explanation.
Again I’ll say that Shane and the NFE have accomplished some unbelievably AWESOME things for the Fire Service. I hope he is able to continue with the Mission in an open and honest manner. Did he (or the NFE) owe me, Rhett, Bob or Andrew the answers to the questions we asked simply because we were the Advisory Board? Should he have “opened the books” for us? I don’t know. I do think however that he owes those answers to the folks whose money supports the NFE.
Comments from Andrew and Rhett ….
“During the last two years, I have been affiliated with the National Firefighters Endowment, and also served on the Advisory Board. There is no doubt that we have helped to fulfill the mission by putting tools in the hands of those on the front lines. I was given the opportunity to see this first hand in Detroit.
As a member of the Advisory Board, I had provided my opinion with always keeping the best interest of the organization and the entire fire service in mind. The Advisory Board presented a number of questions pertaining to the organizational structure, finances, and the future stability of the NFE. I personally did not feel that enough of the answers had been provided within a timely manner, and therefore I have now removed my affiliation with the NFE. I whole heartedly believe in the mission of the NFE, putting tools in the hands of first responders, and I know that there is truly a need for assistance regarding equipment in departments across the US. The NFE consists of a large group of dedicated members of the fire service, and in the future, I hope that these individuals in the organization are able to get the transparency that they deserve. This was a personal decision of mine, and I feel that it needed to be addressed due to my previous public support.
Andrew B. Catron
The Model City Firefighter
From Rhett Fleitz (The Fire Critic http://firecritic.com)
“I was approached about the National Firefighters Endowment (NFE) by the President Shane Parkins back around the time the NFE first began. I liked his plan and idea and after helping out some with sharing the cause I decided to get involved. Due to the short time the NFE had been around, I had to vet the organization on my own and do what I thought was the best for not only the NFE, but for myself and my brand. I became a part of the advisory board, and ended up spreading the word of the NFE through FireCritic.com.
The NFE did a lot of good while I served on the advisory board. None of which I can take claim for. I was merely an outlet for letting others know about the NFE and perpetuating their mission.
Over time, I realized that due to my personal and business interests, partnerships with other organizations, and issues I had with the way the NFE was being managed, It was in my best interest to step down from my position on the advisory board and discontinue any participation with the NFE. I wish Shane, the officers club, and the rest of the NFE the best in the future”.
Stay SAFE and in House!