In the first nine months of 2011, local fire departments responded to 17 water-related incidents, including six deaths from drowning.
“These tragic and avoidable deaths from drowning have captured the attention of firefighters and stay with the first responders well after the call is over,” said Golder Ranch Battalion Chief Bill Foss.
Foss has been on the forefront of this issue as an advocate for Project Trident, a year-round program that will promote drowning awareness, education courses, and barriers for pools.
Supported by North Tucson Firefighters Association Local 3832, the program will go into effect around March of 2012. Until that time, NTFFA has been in need of advertising to promote the cause. Together, Foss and Local 3832 have come up with a solution-quarter midget racing, with none other than Foss’ seven year-old son, Wyatt, as the driver.
While it may sound like an unusual method, the idea has already received national attention, with Wyatt’s car being featured in several firefighter magazines. Additionally, the Foss family had some familiarity with quarter midget racing.
“Since they were babies, whenever we would drive by the track near I-10 and Twin Peaks, we would stop in and watch the races,” said Leigh Foss, Captain of Northwest Fire District.
The Quarter Midget Association is a nationwide program that allows children between ages five and 17 to race one-quarter scale midget racecars.
The cars feature independent suspension, full roll cages, and mandatory seatbelts and shoulder harnesses. Depending on the class of the racer, the cars are powered by 120-160cc engines, with top speeds of 25-45 miles per hour.
With Wyatt already enrolled in the Tucson Quarter Midget Association, Bill figured out a way to use the family’s love of racing to simultaneously promote for Project Trident and other charities out of NTFFA.
“It’s very hard to get a sponsorship for racing when you’re just starting out,” Bill said. “I went to Local 3832 and asked them if they wanted to advertise using Wyatt’s car, with the agreement that Wyatt and our family would help with charity work.”
Local 3832 agreed to sponsor the car, and with the help of Tucson Auto Trim, Wyatt is driving a customized, fire-engine red midget car, with “Local 3832” advertised on a decal.
“The car is my favorite thing about racing,” said Wyatt, who wants to be a firefighter when he grows up.
The fact that “Wyatt ‘the Warrior’ Foss,” as his car reads, has already won five out of six main events in his class, is only helping promote Local 3832 and its charities.
Fittingly, Wyatt’s first win came on Sept. 11 of this year.
“It was special to watch him win on a day like that. It had a lot of meaning,” said Leigh.
At the beginning of the season, Wyatt chose number 343 for his car to honor the number of firefighters killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
“For him to win the 9/11 race in his class with that number on his car was really special, not just to me, but to all the firefighters for that recognition,” said Bill. “It was really special for all of us at the station.”
Fire Warrior Racing, as the Foss family has named their pit team, includes Bill, Leigh, Wyatt’s twin sister Holly, and Wyatt.
“With racing, it’s a full-on family thing. Moms and dads are involved in setting up and maintaining the cars and the track during the race. The kids will help with painting and cleaning up the course.”
Wyatt’s part in NTFFA’s charity organizations will not be limited to racing. Wyatt will also be attending charity events and speaking with other children about program benefits.
“Now that he has a sponsorship with the Firefighters Association, he has to show up for these races and events,” Bill said. “He has learned a lot about responsibility and commitment.”
Leigh said, “The community spirit of racing and seeing how we all work together is a message Wyatt is learning. It’s competition on the track, but friendship off the track.”
In addition to Project Trident, Wyatt will also be participating in Fill the Boot, an upcoming event that will help raise money for victims of muscular dystrophy.
“Most of these events are at different times of the year, and last about one month. When they come up, and they need him, Wyatt is there,” said Bill.