Cliff Haskell

Obituary: Firefighter Cliff Haskell led push for burn center in Sacramento

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5B
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 8:44 am

Cliff Haskell, a visionary firefighter who founded the Firefighters Burn Institute and led a successful drive to open a top burn treatment center in Sacramento, died Feb. 11 after a battle with lung cancer, his family said. He was 81.

Mr. Haskell was a Sacramento Fire Department captain in 1972 when a jet taking off from Sacramento Executive Airport crashed into a nearby Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour. The disaster killed 22 people and left about two dozen others with serious burns and other injuries.

Recognizing a need for specialized care for fire victims, he persuaded Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 to begin working to open a burn treatment center. He raised money to create the Firefighters Burn Institute in December 1973. Doctors and administrators at UC Davis Medical Center quickly agreed to the plan and opened the first regional burn center in January 1974.

Mr. Haskell devoted himself to helping fire victims on retiring in 1989 after 30 years as a firefighter. Under his leadership, the Firefighters Burn Institute – known as the FFBI – grew to provide funding for medical research and training for burn treatment professionals. The nonprofit agency also offers recovery programs for fire survivors and sponsors camps for young victims.

He supported fundraising by firefighters, including the popular "Fill the Boot" drive, which brought in $2 million for a bigger burn unit. Opened in 2010, the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center serves patients at UC Davis Medical Center and Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California as one of the leading treatment centers in the United States.

"None of this would have happened without Cliff," FFBI Executive Director Jim Doucette said. "It's very debatable whether there would have been a center without him."

Mr. Haskell also worked to keep firefighters safe. He was a member of the National Fire Protection Association, which promotes building codes and other measures to reduce fire dangers. He served on committees that develop standards for protective firefighting gear, including helmets, coats and bunker pants.

Born in 1931 in Los Angeles, Clifford Frederick Haskell as a boy moved with his family to Sacramento. He graduated from Sacramento High School in 1950 and served in the Coast Guard.

He lived in Sacramento and had two children with his wife of 57 years, Tillie. He belonged to the Optimist Club and the Elks, and often was greeted as "Coach" by former students of St. Robert Catholic School, where he coached sports teams for nine years. He was predeceased by his son, Bradley, in 2009.

A national figure in the burn support community, Mr. Haskell was honored for his work by the American Burn Association, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, and the International Association of Firefighters. The family waiting room at the UC Davis burn center is named for him and his wife.

"My dad was very humble," said his daughter, Deanne Castaneda. "He was a quiet man, but he saw there was a need to help people who were burned. So he did."


Born: July 21, 1931

Died: Feb. 11, 2013

Survived by: Wife, Tillie of Sacramento; daughter, Deanne Castaneda of Sacramento; sister, Shirley Rahn of Manhattan Beach; seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren

Services: Viewing, 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at W.F. Gormley & Sons, 2015 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; celebration of life, 1 p.m. Tuesday at Elks Lodge No. 6, 6446 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento

Remembrances: Donations in memory of Mr. Haskell may be made to the Firefighters Burn Institute, 3101 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95820

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