By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Each year Central Texas firefighters attempt to extinguish a tragedy greater than any fire.
Neuromuscular diseases devastate the lives of millions of Americans nationwide each year.
Each year firefighters from across America participate in the "Fill the Boot" campaign. Proceeds from the campaign benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
MDA is a non-profit focused on 43 types of neuromuscular diseases, the most common being Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The diseases affect mostly young boys, robbing them of their mobility and muscular functions.
Copperas Cove firefighters completed their annual campaign against muscular dystrophy last week. They waited at street corners and stop lights from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Saturday.
Firefighters endured blistering heat on their own time to ask for donations from drivers. Cove residents responded.
Residents donated $9,322, more than three times the $2,300 donated in 2007, said Lt. Scott Howard of Copperas Cove Fire Department.
A family cause
Cove brought back their campaign after an absence in 2008. Howard's father, a former Dallas firefighter, developed ALS,
at the tail end of 30 years in fire fighting. The disease damaged his father's speech and deteriorated muscle control in his legs.
During the 30 years, Howard's father participated in the Fill the Boot campaigns almost every year. Howard's experience with muscular diseases motivated him to take the lead this year, he said.
The donations help MDA support child sufferers and their families with summer camps, testing and support groups, said Hope Geer, executive director of Heart of Texas chapter of MDA.
Proceeds also go to MDA clinics where sufferers receive free medical care from neurologists and specialists. Additionally, the donations buy up to $2,000 towards a wheelchair, communication devices and leg braces.
The remaining funding goes finding a cure for muscular dystrophy. Researching a cure is not cheap. It costs approximately $82 per minute, Geer said.
Howard knows when he collects donations, the money goes to find a cure for his father's disease.
Leader of the pack
Killeen remains the Central Texas leader for Fill the Boot campaigns, amassing $74,000 earlier this year and $97,000 in 2008.
"The success is due to "the generosity and kind hearts of our citizens," said Jeff Ferrell, president of Killeen Professional Firefighters Association.
Several Killeen firefighters have children suffering from muscular dystrophy, Ferrell said.
"It motivates us because muscular dystrophy is a horrible condition," Ferrell said. "Killeen firefighters do it for no other reason than for the children."
Firefighters relish the chance to meet residents under circumstances other than fires or medical emergencies, Ferrell said.
Firefighters account for approximately 40 percent of funds donated in the 15 county area covered by the Heart of Texas MDA chapter. Texas firefighters raised $3.1 million of $27 million raised by firefighters across the nation in 2008.
Fill the Boot is among the most cost-effective fundraising methods because it does not cost much to operate compared to golf tournaments and other fundraisers.
Most firefighters donate their time and require no setup other than food and drink. The afford ability of the program is essential during a recession where people have fewer dollars to donate.
The reason to donate to MDA even during cash-strapped times is simple, Geer said.
"You never know when it's going to be somebody close to you who might be affected."
The Fill the Boot campaign leads up to the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day telethon broadcast on KWTX Channel 10 tomorrow.
Anyone seeking more information about the Heart of Texas Chapter of MDA or to donate should call (254) 399-8221.
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468