Organizations: 500 For Life
“Somebody dies every 2.4 hours as result of a fire, and a firefighter dies every 76 hours as result of a fire, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Frank Buonanotte. “A cure exists.”
That cure, says Buonanotte, a retired Atlanta-based real estate developer who founded the Shopping Center Group, is a thermal imaging camera produced by Bullard, a Ken-tucky-based protective equipment manufacturer.
Buonanotte became aware of the technology one day while watching Into the Fire, a History Channel documentary on firefighters. The film mentioned the cameras’ life-saving capacity, while noting that their price tag – in the range of $10,000 apiece – made them prohibitively expensive for most of America’s fire departments.
“That didn’t seem right,” Buona-notte says. “It kept bothering me because the value of human life is much greater than the cost of the equipment.”
After a few days of consideration, Buonanotte decided to buy a couple of cameras and donate them. To make sure they went to the neediest fire departments, he contacted the National Fallen Firefighters Founda-tion and the Firemans’ Fund Insur-ance Company’s Heritage Program to evaluate fire departments nationwide and determine where the need is greatest.
In the meantime, Buonanotte decided to approach his friends and family to raise funds for the purchase of even more cameras. “This equipment is expensive and the need is urgent, so for me it didn’t make sense to solicit anything less than $500,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with a $25 donation, but it takes a lot of them to get to $10,000. So when I first started out, $500 was the minimum donation I solicited.”
And thus, 500 For Life was born. After soliciting friends and family, Buonanotte moved through his Rolodex and business acquaintances. “Many have given much, much more than $500” he says. “Quite a few have donated the cost of an entire thermal imager.”
To date, cameras have been granted to fire departments in at least 17 states. Some 13 fire departments in Georgia alone have received the equipment, primarily because Georgia-based donors have requested the cameras stay in the state, Buonanotte says.
His goal for 500 For Life? “Every fire department needs to have at least one for every responding unit they have. This is a job with no finish line.”