HERO: Houston Employees Relief Organization

Police and firefighters have a fund to help families when someone is killed in the line of duty. But until recently there was no similar support for families of city employees. That's changed now with the creation of a new non-profit organization called HERO. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

Houston Mayor Bill White isn't taking personal credit for the HERO program. But he is the man behind it. HERO stands for Houston Employee Relief Organization. Two city employees were killed on the job in the past 18 months. Mayor White says that's what prompted the fund.

"It's a very tragic situation where we have these employees that are out doing their job. It's a risky job. It's more risky because we have drivers that are not paying attention to what they're doing. And these families deserve some support."

The most recent incident happened about four months ago. Public Works employee Harold Norwood was clearing fallen tree limbs and debris from a street when he was struck by a car. Less than a year before that, Jerry Hines was hit and killed while putting out traffic cones to close an icy overpass.

HERO Chairman Bob Lawrence says 22 city employees have died on the job in the past two decades.

"What HERO wants to do is see to it that the surviving dependents of somebody who has lost their life in their line of duty -- where we can come back and say if there's some unusual debts in the family that might put them at risk of losing their home or something like that then maybe we can help out in that situation."

The HERO program is modeled after the 100 Club. That organization relies on donations to help the families of fallen police officers and firefighters.

Mayor White says they'll use the fund to offer tuition assistance and help pay for things like funeral expenses.

"No amount of money can bring back somebody's son, brother, father. But just as a matter of respect seems like if somebody has kids then it would be one less thing to worry about if they had an opportunity for college scholarship and if there was something that would help us meet incidental expenditures."

HERO is entirely funded through individual contributions. And the non-profit is run by volunteers. So 100 percent of the donations go directly to the recipients.

Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...