“Four perish in east side fire” appeared across the headlines of the Record-Journal on Saturday Oct. 15, 1983. That previous evening our son, Brian, died in a fire, while at a sleepover, along with his friends Sean and Ryan Carabetta, and their mother Kathy. The house did not have any smoke detectors, which most likely would have made a difference.
Shortly afterwards we met with Meriden Fire Chief Ronald Fontain, Deputy Fire Chief Robert Raby, Fire Marshall William Kroll, and William Dunn, President of Local 1148 of the fire fighters union. We learned that Meriden had an ordinance requiring smoke detectors. In fact they had a program in which fire personnel actually did neighborhood checks for the presence of smoke detectors. We even found out that they had been to the Carabetta home, but at that time no one was home. They were to return in the next week or so.
Following this meeting with the city’s fire officials, we decided to establish a fund in our son’s name to promote fire safety in hopes that we could prevent another family from experiencing the same tragedy we did. Friends, neighbors, and people from out of town were asking where they could donate. With the cooperation of the Meriden Trust Company, we set up a fund under The Meriden Foundation, which was an established tax-exempt charitable trust. We began “The Brian David Ash Memorial Fire Prevention Fund” very shortly later. Roberta used Brian’s savings account to make the very first donation.
The Record-Journal launched a publicity campaign in our behalf, as well as made a significant contribution from the Record-Journal Foundation. Numerous articles, editorials, and letters to the editor appeared for some time in behalf of the fund. These articles covered our purpose, goals, and progress.
“The main purpose of the fund is to spread the goal about fire safety education” according to fire chief Fontain, who emphasized the use of smoke detectors. “Our main concern is to reach everybody, and to reach them in a way to make them understand that smoke detectors will save lives and minimize fires. Assistant Fire Chief, and Training Officer, Robert Raby said the money from the fund would be used to purchase literature and films on fire prevention. The materials will be used in “fire safety talks to civic groups such as the Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, PTA’s “. Chief Fontain explained that presently their educational efforts are only financed by a very limited budget from the city, and occasional gifts. A permanent trust would provide them with a means for soliciting public support, and assure them of a continual source of funds to obtain needed material. The fund also buys the fire hats that are given to the elementary students during fire prevention week in October. In addition we give the schools fire safety coloring sets, movies, papers, and books on fire safety. We also support many fire safety projects of the local fire department.
In the summer of 1987 Waldbaums Foodmart opened on the Chamberlain highway, near the Meriden Square. As part of their commitment to the community, they sought local charities, which they could support. “The Brian David Ash Memorial Fire Prevention Fund” was selected.
Rather than just make a monetary contribution, they helped sponsor a hot dog fundraiser. On Friday, August 28th to August 30th we had our first hot dog sale in which Waldbaums donated the hot dogs, rolls, condiments, and supplies. Pepsi donated the soda. Both were sold for $.49 with all proceeds going to the fund. In addition we had a fireman’s boot for donations. We had also passed out leaflets on fire safety that was donated by insurance companies and other organizations. The first year we were situated on the side by adjourning shops. We had a trailer donated by Pepsi, and cooked the hot dogs on a grill in it. We also managed to have a fire truck parked near by, and many of the fire fighters came by on their trucks to have lunch.
The following year we were very grateful to Waldbaums who agreed to sponsor the event again. This time we were not able to get a trailer, and sold from a hot dog stand. We had to cook the hot dogs in the store and carry them to the cart. To make matters worse, we were still on the side entrance and it rained that year. That year we finished with higher hopes than success, even after raising our price to seventy-five cents.
The third and subsequent years we had a trailer, again donated by Pepsi, but now we had been relocated directly in front of the main entrance. We were no longer able to cook the hot dogs in the trailer because of health codes, so we continued to cook the hot dogs in the deli department, and carry them back to the trailer, as we needed them. This year we added specialty-advertising items we had printed with our name and slogan “Working Smoke Detectors Save Lives”. This was the first time we had incurred any expense, since all items had previously been donated. Fortunately, most people who took these items also gave us cash donations in the fireman’s boot. We also figured out it was just as easy to ask for a dollar than less, and this was our price for several years later.
We learned that the give aways were so effective in getting cash donations that we got the idea to include specialty items from other sources. At first we approached merchants, banks, and local businesses for their own specialty advertising items that we could lay out on a table. These were a great hit, generated lots of donations, and didn’t cost us anything. In later years we got smarter and went to specialty advertising distributors and printers. We were amazed at the inventories they had of over runs and misprints that they were glad to move out of their inventory. This effort has been so successful, that I lose the use of our garage for months before the fundraiser.
In 2003 Super Foodmart closed, and we were lucky to be able to continue our fundraiser at Stop & Shop on East Main Street in Meriden. This will be our nineteenth season. This year it will be held on Sept. 9th to 11th 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Hot dog, soda, and chips for $2.00, and also this year we are having a raffle in addition to the other things we have been doing for several years.
By: Michael G. Ash