Bradenton — Beyond the bulletproof vests, fire suits and other safety gear, the risk of injury and death for law enforcement and emergency personnel is a harsh reality of the job.
And it’s something Kathy Peel has been thinking about for some time.
Peel and her husband Sean are both first responders. She is a captain for Manatee Emergency Medical Services, and he is an engineer for the North River Fire District.
On Friday they both wrote wills during the inaugural Wills for Heroes program organized by the Manatee County Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Division.
“We know from our profession that things can change at a blink of an eye,” said Kathy Peel, 40, who’s been working for EMS for 21 years. “It’s good to know I have all this in place.”
During the event, which took place at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 40 attorneys volunteered to prepare wills for eligible first responders and their spouses free of charge.
“It’s a really good thing to do for our first responders,” said Dana Laganella Gerling, a co-chair of the event who wrote the outlines for the wills that were used. “They routinely put their lives on the line for our citizens in Manatee County.”
Without a will, Gerling said, the state generally decides where a deceased person’s assets go.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube sent an e-mail to his staff about the event.
“I think all of us in law enforcement or firefighters don’t think beyond tomorrow, but what we do can put us in exponential danger,” he said. “It would be proper and fit for our families not to go through the worry.”
Not everyone in attendance was writing their will for the first time. Sheriff’s Detective Carol Burd came to update the one she had written during her time in the Navy.
For Burd, risk is not something constantly on her mind while at work. She said thinking too much about it would hinder anyone’s ability to do their jobs properly.
“Every time a police officer is killed you always wonder,” said Burd, who has worked for the sheriff’s office for 35 years. “You never know when your time comes.”
More than 70 first responders and their spouses attended to get their last wishes on paper.
“It’s better to have control of your wishes rather than letting someone else make your wishes for you,” said volunteer lawyer James Williams Knowles.
The Wills for Heroes Foundation is a national program that got started after the 9/11 attacks and is designed to assist emergency personnel in preparing basic estate planning. Gerling and other coordinators are hoping it will catch on.
“We’re thinking about making this an annual event,” she said. “I think our community is embracing it.”
And it’s something Herb Smith, and many others, are thankful for.
“I think this is a great opportunity,” said Smith, 42, a battalion chief for the Southern Manatee Fire Rescue.
“I think it’s a good thing that my family has peace of mind in the event something happens.”