BILLINGS — The Billings Firefighters Benevolent Fund is a nonprofit aimed at raising money to assist community members and firefighters following emergencies. From helping families with emergency travel costs to assisting sick or injured firefighters—the list goes on. But this assistance has helped some of their very own—more than once.
Ben Jares is the board president of the Billings benevolent fund and a Billings firefighter himself. His family saw the need for this fund first-hand four years ago when their then-1-year-old daughter, Cece, was diagnosed with cancer.
“About four years ago, my wife and I found out that our youngest was diagnosed with cancer. So we had to go to Denver for some surgeries," Jares said on Thursday. "That evening, one of our members knocked on our door and had a check to cover our first few weeks there. That really hit home for me. And that’s probably about the time I got more involved with the benevolent fund, so I could help other people."
Jares has been a firefighter for more than 15 years and said all firefighters help raise money for the fund. But after the assistance his family received, he wanted to help even more.
“Every firefighter with the fire department participates in the benevolent fund. Every single one of us helps raise money, and everybody jumps in,” Jares said. "(Last year), we needed to establish a board of trustees. I volunteered to take over for one of the other guys and became board president."
This fund was started 20 years ago and became a nonprofit in 2022. Now, board members are searching for donors.
Other firefighters have received similar assistance through the fund—including the Voller family. The Billings Fire Department assistant training chief, Chris Voller, had to take time off of work to travel to Denver with his family for medical treatments after his then 2-year-old son, Tristan, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2021. Jares said during that time, the nonprofit helped with anything from meal train donations to mowing the family's lawn while they were out of town.
But this fund isn't just for firefighters. It has benefitted many local Billings residents.
“We’ve helped hundreds of people in the last 20 years since this was started. I would say we probably help an average of 50 people a year," Jares said. “We would show up to these fires and we would put the fire out, and then we would hand the home back over to these people in the middle of the winter. They were standing there with absolutely nothing and nowhere to go and no one to call. It was gut-wrenching for these firefighters that had to just drive away and leave these people. And so 20-something years ago, the guys started this fund so we could have a little bit of money and fix these problems right now. It’s not always house fires anymore. A lot of our money has been going to sick kids. Lately, it seems we’ve done a lot of stuff for sick kids."
And it's not just monetary donations that are making a difference.
“It’s not always just money," Jares said. "We’ve had guys take somebody’s dog for a week and get it to the vet and get it groomed after a house fire.”
This help isn't cheap, and the nonprofit has to raise the money before offering assistance.
The nonprofit teamed up with Billings firefighters for a fundraising event for the annual Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Firefighters Stair Climb in Seattle. The event took place on Thursday from 4-8 p.m. at Diamond X Brewing, located at 5417 Hawk Creek Ave. in Billings. Part of the night's sales proceeds were donated to the Billings firefighters' stair climb team. The brewery also has a special lager, Engine #7 Lager, to benefit the firefighters. A portion of sales from the lager was donated to the nonprofit at the event.
“There’s certainly a need,” Jares said. “We do have a website where people can donate on that website directly to the Billings Firefighter’s Benevolent Fund.”
Community members helping other community members—and making a life-changing difference.
To learn more about or donate to the Billings Firefighters Benevolent Fund, click here.
“We’ve got to do a lot of great things with that money," Jares said. "Now our focus is finding more donors."