Thomas Gallinatti was an Oakland firefighter for 30 years, a battalion chief and director of firefighter training before he retired earlier this year. Chronic injuries forced him to undergo two shoulder replacements and into early retirement. The 51-year-old said he didn't want to quit working but because of the injuries and surgeries had to hang up his firefighter turnout gear.

"I wasn't ready to leave the fire service," he said. "I would never have scripted this ending to my career."

Amid his own sadness about the early retirement, Gallinatti said he felt a need to help others: specifically, the families of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.

"The initial vision was to build a website to honor fallen police and firefighters," he said.

A website was built, then the Walnut Creek man and others organized a celebrity golf tournament at the Diablo Country Club in Diablo in April, raising $40,000 for the families of fallen Oakland police Sgts. Mark Dunakin, of Tracy, Erv Romans, of Danville, Daniel Sakai, of Castro Valley, and Officer John Hege, of Concord. The four were killed in March 2009 in a gunbattle with parolee Lovell Mixon, who was later killed by police.


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The golf tournament's star power included musicians Johnny Gunn and Eddie Money, and actor Ron Masak, the longtime sheriff from the television program "Murder She Wrote." Danville's now-famous Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger attended the tournament dinner. A second tournament is planned for June 2011, and the nonprofit organization has partnered with the Oakland Raiders to raise money at a game in November.

"This is my way of giving back to the public safety community," Gallinatti said.

The Fallen Heroes organization is about to mark its anniversary, and Gallinatti is hopeful about getting corporate sponsorship, more volunteers and raising as much money as possible for fallen police and firefighters. Last year, statewide, six police officers were killed on the job, and this year nine police officers have died in the line of duty.

Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said, "these families are very appreciative for the outpouring of so much support." Family members of the four slain Oakland officers were not available for comment.

"By seeing this happen, (people) realize they died doing what they loved and they died for a lot of people who appreciate what (police and firefighters) do everyday," Arotzarena said.

Arotzarena said groups such as the Martin C. Kauffman 100 Club of Alameda County, which donated $20,000 to each of the families of the four slain Oakland officers, keep current police and firefighters motivated "knowing there are people out there who really do care about them."

While there is the 100 Club of Alameda County and the CHP 11-99 Foundation, which assists the families of slain California Highway Patrol officers, Gallinatti said he believes there needs to be more done to help out.

"In doing this golf tournament, I found out there is a huge void in helping fallen police and firefighters in a unified manner," he said.

Gallinatti said eight firefighters died during his time with the Oakland Fire Department, including his good friend, 47-year-old Kevin Reed, who had a heart attack during a workout at an Oakland gym after a three-day work shift that included nearly three dozen calls for service.

"It's devastating," he said. Police and firefighters "go to work and they're doing what they can to serve you and protect you. Also, after a death it's such a whirlwind because family's lives are turned upside-down, and they have to deal with investigations and paperwork, and interviews and there is no time to grieve."

While celebrities are a big part of getting people to sign up for the golf tournament, Gallinatti also recruited an unlikely ally: Ari Eastman, a Danville teen who was recently crowned Miss Teen California. Eastman, 18, was Gallinatti's neighbor for many years. Eastman said she can relate to the cause because her neighborhood is home to many police and firefighters and her own father, who did not work in public safety, died of cancer two years ago.

"I can't even imagine losing someone in such a violent and quick manner," she said. When the four Oakland police officers died, she said she wanted to help in some way. "I knew this meant there were 10 children fatherless and I wanted to find a way to turn my own experience into something beneficial to others."

For more information about the Oakland Raiders fundraising game on Nov. 7 or the Fallen Heroes organization, go to http://thefallenheroes.org.