For a tea drinker, Sean Cullen is very loyal to one coffee brand: Fire Department Coffee.
The New York City-area firefighter got to know the founders of FDC, as the company is nicknamed, through the tight-knit online firefighter community. FDC, described in its “About Us” page as a business run by firefighters, first responders and coffee connoisseurs, offers a selection of coffees and its signature spirit-infused roasts. It also has a mission to help “heroes in need.”
Cullen’s loyalty stems from the fact that Fire Department Coffee gave over $5,500 to the Tommy Cullen Foundation, which Cullen started in honor of his late brother, a firefighter who died while responding to the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. The charity can be compared to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in that it provides memorable experiences for first responders battling cancer and their families.
“The guys are great. They really legitimately care,” Cullen said of FDC’s leaders, Luke Schneider (pictured below at right) and Jason Patton, who originally supported a firefighter football team charity he was involved in.
Helping the Tommy Cullen Foundation wasn’t a one-time philanthropic effort for FDC either. The Rockford, Illinois, coffee business gives 10% of its total net proceeds to support first responders and firefighters.
Veteran Brews Up A Coffee Business
The idea for Fire Department Coffee started with Schneider, a Navy veteran-turned-firefighter. After he met his barista wife, Kate, the two decided to go into the coffee business. One of its popular coffees early on was the “Fire Department Blend.” A portion of its sales went to a burn camp run by the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance.
After seeing the popularity of pairing coffee with charitable giving and the firefighter community, the Schneiders decided to change their branding to Fire Department Coffee, which now features an array of products and has its own foundation.
Firefighters and coffee are a natural match, FDC vice president Patton said, since firefighters have to keep fueled up on 24-hour shifts to be ready to go out on calls.
“Coffee is what drives pretty much every firefighter, paramedic and first responder in the world,” Patton said.
He explained that they didn’t just want to offer caffeinated drinks for sale.
“We wanted to make sure that we were actually giving back to the community’s first responders,” Patton said.
Patton came aboard the Fire Department Coffee team after connecting with FDC over the popular and funny firefighter videos he makes for his Fire Department Chronicles.
Take a look at his energetic promotion of Fire Department Coffee in this video from the Fire Dept. Coffee YouTube page.
Fire Dept. Coffee Grows Through Giving
Since FDC started in 2016, it has doubled its sales each year, said Patton. The staff started with just Schneider and his wife, then added a secretary and a roaster and grew from there. Today, Fire Department Coffee has 25 employees.
Every month the Fire Department Coffee Foundation sits down to pick two people in need to give between $500-$2,000.
“What we love to do is, when we hear stories about individuals who need help, we go to their benevolent funds and we donate directly to them,” Patton said. “We always want to make sure that the funds are going to the people who need it the most.”
FDC has donated about $50,000 since its founding. Recipients include the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, North Carolina First Responder Peer Support Team, the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the Superheroes Foundation and the FDNY EMS Help Fund.
Active military, veterans, first responders and emergency dispatchers also receive a 15% discount on all purchases.
Company Makes Plans To Expand
For now, FDC’s coffee can only be purchased at the website at firedeptcoffee.com, but the company is looking to expand into about 500 Midwestern area grocery stores soon.
“We’d like to see a very strong retail presence and ‘ready to drink’ cans of coffee,” Patton said. “We want to be the coffee brand that every hard-working man or woman chooses on a daily basis.”