The Beverly Hills Firefighters Association (BHFA) recognized longtime resident and civic leader Judie Fenton with the inaugural Judie Fenton Community and Volunteer Excellence Award during its 31st annual Backdraft Ball, held June 8 at the Beverly Hilton.
Fenton, president and founder of FTA Events, is no stranger to Beverly Hills civic life. In addition to her longtime support of the BHFA, she has served on the Recreation and Parks commission, helmed Mayor Dr. Julian Gold’s City Council campaign in 2020, co-chaired Councilmember Lester Friedman’s 2022 campaign and served on the Traffic and Parking Commission.
Approximately 30 years ago, Fenton created the event she is perhaps most proud of—the BHFA Backdraft Ball. Fittingly, this year’s event honoring Fenton set records in terms of ticket sales, silent auction and donations.
Beverly Hills’ firefighters established the new permanent award named for Fenton to spotlight her selfless acts of service, volunteerism, work ethic and impact on the community, Beverly Hills Fire Department (BHFD) Chief Greg Barton told the Courier.
“This was an opportunity to recognize Judie for all the selfless service she’s done for the fire family,” said Barton. “The Judie Fenton Community and Volunteer Excellence Award will be awarded once a year, and it’s a way to continue everything Judie’s done going forward.”
Speaking at the well-attended gathering at the Hilton, Barton told the crowd of approximately 400 people about Fenton’s decades of dedicated service to the Beverly Hills community. Addressing Fenton directly, he said, “I would like to take a moment to express my deepest gratitude for your unwavering support. Your contributions have far-reaching impact and will leave a lasting legacy.”
Barton said Fenton’s contributions to the city’s firefighting efforts were invaluable.
“She is 100 percent behind the Beverly Hills Fire Department and the Beverly Hills Firefighters Association,” Barton said in a phone interview after the event.
The Beverly Hills Firefighters Association is a labor organization representing 86 full-time professional employees of the BHFD, including firefighters, paramedics and battalion chiefs. The Backdraft Ball raises funds for the medical trust of the city’s retired firefighters who lose their medical insurance after they retire from years of dedicated service to the community. Members of the BHFA operate the city’s three fire stations 24-hours per day and respond to over 8,000 incidents a year.
Barton anticipates the new award will be put to good use in future years. Each year, any member of the BHFD will be eligible to receive the Judie Fenton Community and Volunteer Excellence Award. An awards committee will determine who is most deserving.
“It’s a standalone award that will be given out annually,” Barton said. “Whether that’s at the Backdraft Ball or another event, that still remains to be seen.”
Fenton and Barton have known each other for almost 30 years. Together they’ve shared both personal and professional ups and downs. In fact, Fenton credits the BHFD with saving her life. In October 2022, Fenton was enjoying dinner at Porta Via in Beverly Hills when she suddenly stopped talking. She was having a stroke. Her friends called 911, prompting an immediate response from BHFD, which provided her with an anti-coagulant, also known as a blood thinner.
That evening, Fenton was transported to the nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Today, she’s still in recovery and in speech therapy, but her loved ones say the rapid response of the local emergency responders played a significant role in minimizing harm.
“With strokes, if you don’t get to it fast, the person suffers more damage,” Fenton’s daughter, Jenny Smiley, told the Courier.
Smiley works with her mother at FTA Events, which specializes in event planning, creative marketing, business development and political campaign strategies. Like her mother, she attends the Backdraft Ball every year. This year, she was heartened and moved by Chief Barton’s announcement at the evening’s conclusion that they’d be creating an award in Fenton’s honor.
“It was a surprise, and it was really nice,” Smiley said.
Fenton has been supporting the BHFA and the Backdraft Ball since its inception—yet it’s far from the only city cause she supports. When her four children, who are now grown, were in BHUSD schools, she was active on Horace Mann Elementary School’s PTA. She’s also been involved with the Maple Counseling Center, a nonprofit community health center, as well as the Beverly Hills Education Foundation.
Her passion has always been the city of Beverly Hills, where she has lived since the 1970s, Smiley said.
“I think her thing has always been to just support the community. She’s been very involved. Her involvement in the city has always been there,” Smiley said. “Her big thing is, this is her city and anything she can do to better it has always been her forte.”