"I started the Leary Firefighters Foundation in 2000," Leary told co-anchor Harry Smith on The Early Show Friday. "My cousin, Jerry Lucey, and a childhood friend of mine, Tommy Spencer, were two of six firemen killed in a firehouse in Worcester, Mass. - my hometown - in 1999. We were involved with helping the Worcester Fire Department in Boston and New York after 9/11. A vehicle we bought for the FDNY ended up on television, on CNN, a couple of mornings after Katrina, and I thought, we're already down there. We ended up getting involved because nobody was talking about the firefighters."
Leary explained that the New Orleans fire department was in dire straits at the time.
"Twenty-two of their firehouses were damaged, and 11 of those, they had to put trailers up next to the firehouses," he said. "We named the program the Jerry Lucey program in honor of my cousin and we went to work, expecting it would take us forever. But the New York City carpenter's union and the firefighters from New York were down there immediately."
The actor said that he was moved by the outpouring of support from a variety of sources as well as the tenacity of the firefighters.
"It's been the firefighters, the people down there, you know, Frigidaire, the carpenters' union, and these people have done it all by basically going down and hammering nails," he said. "It's remarkable. One thing that's great about firefighters. If they don't have the equipment they desperately need, they don't have the help, they don't care. They'll do it on their own."
Leary explained that the firefighters had to set up temporary housing while they were rebuilding their firehouses, but they never gave up.
"They had trailers next door with 10, 15 guys living in a trailer meant for two people, a grill set up outside," he said. "When they're not fighting fires, they're rebuilding their own firehouses. These guys are so dedicated. None of them get paid enough. They're there to help save us in case we're in trouble. Meanwhile, you know, they - it's just - I love them."
For more information, and to make a donation, log on to learyfirefighters.org.