The foundation was begun in 2000, by comedian Dennis Leary after a warehouse blaze claimed the lives of Worcester firefighters James F. Lyons, Joseph T. McGuirk, Timothy P. Jackson, Thomas E. Spencer, Paul A. Brotherton and Jeremiah M. Lucey, Leary's cousin.
The foundation's goals expanded following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center that claimed the lives of 343 New York City firefighters, including Leary's friend, Capt. Paddy Brown. The Leary Firefighters Foundation was the second-quickest charity to issue checks in the aftermath, he said.
"Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) (who played in last year's game) is the only politician I know who has said what we've been saying all along: In the wake of 9-11, firefighters shouldn't be treated like civil servants anymore," Leary said. "They're not like sanitation workers and teachers, and I mean no offense to either of those groups, but if a bomb went off in this building right now, the first responders would be the fire department. Firefighters need to be separated and treated almost as a branch of the military and funded federally. That's what I believe."
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