CALUMET CITY | If it’s Friday and your local firefighters are all wearing red T-shirts, it’s meant to be a sign of support for those military veterans who returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with physical disabilities.
Throughout the south suburbs, the concept of “Red Shirt” Fridays is catching on, with firefighters showing their emotional and financial support for those veterans, as the T-shirts are part of a fundraising campaign by the Association of Firefighters of Illinois.
Specifically, the group hopes that fire departments across the state will cooperate to raise enough money to purchase specially equipped automobiles for three disabled veterans.
Tim O’Brien, who is with the Chicago Fire Department and is a coordinator of the “Wounded Warrior” program for the Illinois Association of Firefighters, met with the Calumet City Fire Department on Friday to help explain to them how the program works, and how their efforts can help a disabled veteran better cope with civilian life.
As of now, Calumet City firefighter Mike Flanagan said that firefighters locally have all purchased the red T-shirts (at $15 apiece) and are hoping to sell the shirts to members of the community who want to show their support to the veterans.
The shirts are a bright red and read on the front, “For the men and women who protect your family’s freedom.” On the back, they read, “Support our troops.” Flanagan said people interested in purchasing a shirt can contact him at (708) 825-3295.
Flanagan said the Calumet City Fire Department may sponsor some sort of event at which the shirts would be sold, although none had yet been scheduled as of Friday.
O’Brien cited the efforts of the South Holland Fire Department, which managed to sell 50 red T-shirts at a golf outing earlier this summer. He said the Chicago Heights Fire Department also is planning an event in support of the cause.
O’Brien also said that state legislators such as state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, and state Reps. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, and Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley, have been supportive in promoting the “red shirt” cause.
Money is used to purchase U.S.-made automobiles, which then are modified to accommodate a veteran’s disability. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides funds to pay for the modifications.
The fundraising efforts in the south suburbs began about one month ago, and O’Brien said about 4,000 T-shirts have been sold during that time. He said the group hopes to sell about 10,000 T-shirts by Veterans Day to raise enough money to purchase automobiles for the three veterans.
He said that if the group runs short financially, they may give away two automobiles and do a third vehicle in the spring.
Since O’Brien said his hope is that the 215 local chapters of the Association of Firefighters in Illinois can make this an annual fundraising event and the group can provide automobiles for disabled veterans on a yearly basis.
“As time goes on, maybe we can get up to purchasing six, seven or eight” automobiles, O’Brien said.