TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Fund the First is a secure, verified crowdfunding platform started by first responders, for first responders. It launched in July, with an NYPD detective at the helm, and one of Tampa Bay’s own providing backup.

It’s an idea that started three years ago when Detective Robert Garland wanted to find a way to help his fellow first responders in times of crisis, including personal or family illness, injuries, or even death, in the line of duty.

“I saw a friend struggling with his child’s illness, and I said, I’m going to create something, I don’t know what that is right now, but I’m going to create something just for you and your family to get the help that they deserve,” Garland said.

After years of planning, Fund The First launched in July. The secure crowdfunding platform allows anyone to create a campaign on behalf of any first responder, veteran, or law enforcement agency, but recipients are verified, to eliminate fraud, and ensure donations are dispatched directly to the intended cause. Generally, campaigns are active within 24 hours.

“Support, security, and trust are very important, especially to first responders,” Garland said.

He points out that other crowdfunding websites allow anyone to create a campaign claiming to benefit a law enforcement officer, but sometimes donations go into the pockets of unknown recipients.

A component of Fund the First is the Fallen First Reserve, an idea brought to the table by Fund the First squad member Mitch Weinstein, a former law enforcement deputy from Tampa Bay.

“The intent is to get family members of a fallen first responder $5,000 immediately, to help take the stress off of those who’d just lost a loved one,” Weinstein explained.

He noted that while he’d had the idea for a while, he’d pitched the concept to Fund the First on the same morning that Lakeland Police Officer Paul Dunn died in a tragic motorcycle crash.

Garland points out that campaigns can be created for a number of causes, which may include funding for supplies that departments desperately need, such as PPE or, in at least one case, new fire trucks. In Florida, one campaign is currently active. Healthy Hire, Health Retire, provides access to mental health and suicide prevention services for members of law enforcement or the military.

Garland said, “to see it actually come to fruition, to see it actually work, to see people actually trusting it, is an incredible experience.”

To create or donate to a campaign, visit FundTheFirst.com.