Widows and Orphans Fund
In 1934 the newly formed professional San Mateo Fire Department began to feel the need form an organization to help protect the men and their families in time of need. Health and security benefits were not part of the pay package in the early days.
By Retired Capt. Richard Bremer
It was at the "graduation night" of the Fire Department's first fire training program, when several city council members endorsed the idea of a "Widows and Orphans Fund." Shortly after that night, Chief Morris called a meeting of the Department with the express purpose of starting that fund.
The initial order of business was the election of the first president of the Widows and Orphans Fund, John H. Gibson. Then came the question of where the money would come from. It was finally settled; there would be a dance. Shortly, they had hired an orchestra and a performer for the very first "Firemen's Ball." After all fees and entertainers were paid, the fund netted $750.00.
The fund grew and grew, in those early years the annual dances were popular, and fire fighters sold tickets door to door. The only controversies revolved around who was doing their fair share of ticket sales. The Widows and Orphans Fund purchased life insurance and membership in the California Physicians Service for each Fire Department employee. There were disability payments and sick leave benefits all paid for by the Widows and Orphans Fund.
In 1952 the city attorney ruled that it was illegal to give Widows and Orphans Fund benefits to the fire alarm operators and the administrative staff. They had to be dropped from the rolls. This was also the year that the fund started "self insurance," with a death benefit of $2000.00 for all members.
The Grand Jury began an investigation of the Widows and Orphans Fund in 1955. There was not a hint of wrongdoing. In 1959 the membership opted to pull out of the health insurance business, and individual members began paying for their own medical insurance. Life membership was granted to all retired safety personnel.
The dropping of all insurance payments began the evolution of what the Widows and Orphans Fund is today. In 1961 a motion was made to drop the staging of the annual "Firemen's Ball," and nothing was written on that subject again.
The Widows and Orphans Fund today is basically a life insurance benefit and holds nearly a half million dollars in reserve for that purpose. The funds are invested in mutual funds and a fairly stable stock portfolio. Although a substantial amount of money, it is all that remains of an organization that sustained the health and welfare of many firemen and their families throughout the years.