To much of the republic, Miami means sex and fiscal mismanagement. Recent questions raised by a Palm Beach newspaper about a provocative calendar have improved and deepened that reputation.
It is easy to see why the twelve months of the Female Firefighters of South Florida have attracted attention. Slick pages smolder with sexy fire-rescue personnel from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. The back of the calendar shows a gruesomely burned child and promises a worthy goal: "Proceeds benefiting UM/JM Burn Center," it reads. Indeed the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital Burn Center needs urgent care. Its board of directors recently gutted the organization's trust fund and spent $800,000 to move the facility to the Ryder Trauma Center. The burn unit also shells out big bucks for public education programs, nurse and physical therapy training, and outreach for fire-scarred children who have trouble facing their peers when returning to school.
The 1999 version unfolds with a glossy photo of brunette, somber-faced, 32-year-old Nicolle (sorry, porn fiends, no measurements). Her fire-resistant overalls are un-Velcroed and hang loosely from her hips, exposing a minute maroon bikini. Juxtaposed with a small fire so that flames appear to dance from her torso, Nicolle holds a fire hose above her shoulders and douses her chest.
The burn center got hosed, too. The calendar producers, a small nonprofit group called Friends of the Burn Center, sold $80,000 worth of 1999 calendars, most at ten dollars a pop, the group's treasurer Steve Lowe told the Palm Beach Post in July. But the center received only $3619. That means that if you bought a calendar for ten dollars, you contributed about 45 cents to the charity.
"That's not much," grimaces Colette Bramblett, when New Times informs her of the scanty donation. The lean and busty 35-year-old brunette smiles over February this year, standing in a sea of white fire-retardant foam in black pumps and a set of silvery short shorts and bikini top. Bramblett, a firewoman at Miami-Dade Rescue Station 23, offers an explanation that suggests producing a calendar might be like learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR. "It's like a trial-and-error thing. Until you get it right people usually screw up. The more times you do it the better you get at it," she reasons. "It needs to be done like a business. But that wasn't my end of it so I didn't really worry about it."
It appears the state is more concerned than Bramblett. After receiving a complaint and reading a July 8 Palm Beach Post article about the calendar, regulators at the Division of Consumer Services suspected Friends of the Burn Center might be operating illegally. They were right. The group, which includes active and retired fire-rescue personnel from Miami-Dade and Broward, never registered with the division as required by a seven-year-old state law. The division monitors fundraising organizations to weed out scammers.
This past July 16 regulatory consultant Lynnette Ray sent a letter to the Friends. On behalf of the state, she warned they could face thousands of dollars in fines. As of last week the state inquiry was still open, says Rudy Hamrick, program administrator for consumer services.
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Photographer and Friends member Carlos Llano acknowledges that little money went to the burn center. But, he asserts, it was necessary for firefighter-models to travel across the nation to promote their product. "[The money] wasn't misspent," Llano declares. "The girls' calendar is sold at firefighters' conventions. Since nobody makes any money, the least we can do is to pay the airfare and the hotel so they can sell the calendars." Llano adds that "some of the money we made [in 1999] we used for the 2000 version, to get us going."
Llano insists all the models, photographers, and other workers were volunteers. He says his company, which took all the pictures, wasn't paid, for instance. He couldn't confirm the sales figures or give details of the spending, referring questions to fellow Friends member and Miami-Dade fire lieutenant Laura Kupinski. Kupinski did not return telephone calls from New Times. Friends treasurer Steve Lowe also refused to answer any questions regarding calendar expenditures and profits. He said the last time he spoke to a reporter "we got burned and it cost us a lot of grief and headaches for no reason at all. We're just trying to do something for the community."
Burn center director Dr. Gil Ward concedes the Friends are not a major donor. Others give more. Last year, for instance, kids from Miami Country Day School raised about $5600 for the Burn Center in a five-kilometer walkathon. But Ward is charitable when analyzing the Friends' contribution. "The calendar has given us some excellent publicity and that's part of fundraising, to have your name in the public," Ward says. "Everybody loves a firefighter. They come and save people. So it's a very positive image and that's been very good for us."
The 2000 calendar went on sale at stores (and at www.femalefirefighters.com) in July. With luck this edition, which is slightly more expensive, will generate a few hundred more dollars for the burn center. And oh yeah, the new calendar adds a flourish of editorial precision: "A portion of the proceeds benefits the University of Miami Burn Center."