One of my early childhood memories is of when my first-grade class visited our local fire station just down the street from my grade school. We had made paper firefighter hats and proudly wore them as we marched two by two for our visit to Station 5. It was a classic two-story fire house with a fire pole leading from the second-floor sleeping rooms to where the shiny red engines awaited.
I guess I have always appreciated the roles of what we now call “first responders” in the life of our communities. But to be honest, in retrospect I took for granted the level of commitment and ultimate sacrifice these women and men faced by just showing up for their job each day. For me that all changed on September 11, 2001.
While thousands of people were rushing out of the Twin Towers to escape the chaos of the smoke and flames, seared into my memory were the images of firefighters, police officers, and other emergency responders rushing into harm’s way.
Today, it seems almost impossible to go more than a few days without learning of another loss of a public servant while in the line of duty somewhere in our country. Just this summer, only a few miles from the State Bar Center, an explosion took the life of a firefighter, while leveling a significant portion of downtown Sun Prairie. Buildings can be restored, but the loss of life is profound and alters forever the lives of loved ones left behind and their communities.
In the fall of 2009, the State Bar of Wisconsin joined a national movement founded by the Wills for Heroes Foundation to assist emergency personnel in preparing basic estate planning documents that will protect them and their families.
The Wisconsin Wills for Heroes program, administered by the State Bar pro bono program, is a free service offered to all eligible first responders. Here’s how it works: Lawyers volunteer to give up part of a Saturday to attend free legal clinics held at law enforcement and firefighting facilities to help prepare basic estate plans for police officers and firefighters around the state.
Lawyers volunteer to give up part of a Saturday to attend free legal clinics held at law enforcement and firefighting facilities to help prepare basic estate plans for police officers and firefighters around the state.
At a typical clinic, a volunteer will meet with the first responder for about an hour to complete the requested documents based on their answers to a questionnaire. Volunteers agree to serve for either the morning shift, the afternoon shift, or both. Clinics will typically have seven lawyers on each shift, along with notaries and witnesses. What is great is that a number of law students from the U.W. and Marquette law schools also volunteer to serve as witnesses and to assist the lawyers.
Since 2009, the YLD has organized more than 180 clinics with hundreds of volunteers assisting first responders in cities including Milwaukee, Madison, and Wausau as well as in smaller communities such as Pleasant Prairie, Waldo, and Poynette.
Here is how you can help. There remain hundreds of police officers, firefighters, and EMTs across the state who have requested assistance – particularly in communities outside our major urban areas. If you can join us or to learn more about this program, go to www.wisbar.org/willsforheroes.
Thanks to the hundreds of volunteer lawyers who have stepped up these past several years. As we have learned in recent times all too well, you have had a real effect on real people.