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Filling the Boot From Sea to Shining Sea

February 28, 2008 -- From coast to coast, the IAFF Fill-the-Boot campaign is an outstanding performer when it comes to raising funds for the life-giving programs offered by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Many fire fighters involved with Fill-the-Boot know first-hand about life with a neuromuscular disease, and the importance of MDA’s missions of help and hope.

Besides funding vital research, Fill-the-Boot provides funds for a nationwide network of MDA medical clinics, support groups and summer camps, as well as financial assistance with the purchase of wheelchairs, leg braces and communication devices.

For him, It’s Close to Home

Captain Peter Kearney, a member of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854 in New York City, knows about the services MDA provides because his five-year-old son, Kevin, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. That drives him to make Fill-the-Boot as successful as it possibly can be.

“Captain Kearney has been instrumental in making Fill-the-Boot a reality in New York,” says Emily Newberry, MDA program coordinator in New York City. “That’s a special challenge because our fire fighters can only make their solicitations when they’re off duty.”

Kearney has worked long and hard with Local 854 and the Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94) to get their members out on the street, boots at the ready.

In a joint IAFF-MDA poster depicting Captain Kearney and Kevin, Kearney puts his thoughts into words for the public: “I ask you to join this noble and important effort, one that will help to provide treatments for my son, Kevin, and bring MDA to its ultimate, life-saving goal — a cure for muscular dystrophy. It’s a goal that my family and I desperately long for.”

Out West…A Very Busy Guy

A continent away in San Marcos, California, Local 4184 fire fighter Mike Vasile likely is thinking similar thoughts. His brother Cole, who’s 21, also has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He received his diagnosis when he was five.

“Mike has worked extra hard with the city and the fire chief to make Fill-the-Boot a super producer,” says Joan Ewing, MDA San Diego district director who knows her fire fighters by their first names.

Ewing says that Local 4184’s collections in 2007 more than doubled from 2006, largely due to Vasile’s enthusiasm and coordinating efforts. Ewing says his whole family shows up to help out, as well.

Vasile further demonstrated his Fill-the-Boot spirit recently when he volunteered to deliver the orientation talk for the Southern California Fire Fighters Boot Camp. The camp brings together Fill-the-Boot coordinators from throughout the region, providing workshops and showing newer fire fighters what the seasoned ones have learned about conducting a successful campaign.

Fixing A Confusing Law

Also in California, IAFF and MDA had another important Fill-the-Boot connection last year, and this one likely will have positive consequences for Fill-the-Boot campaigns across the country.

Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters (CPF), worked closely with MDA staff to remedy a problem that had cropped up in a few California municipalities.

California state laws were ambiguous about the circumstances under which fire fighters could collect from the public. Some municipalities chose to interpret the regulations in ways that unnecessarily restricted Fill-the-Boot events.

The IAFF-MDA team worked with the state legislature and ultimately won passage of California State Bill 582, which specifically affirms fire fighters’ rights as charity volunteers to engage in charitable solicitations on public roadways, as long as they’ve filed an application with the appropriate local authority and have liability insurance.

The legislation is relatively simple and it’s hoped it can serve as a model in other states and municipalities where laws governing Fill-the-Boot activities may be hazy.

IAFF is MDA’s single largest organizational sponsor (more than $25 million in 2007), and the logic of the two groups’ partnership has been plain for more than 50 years. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, people from all walks of life are coping with devastating neuromuscular diseases, and fire fighters and their families are among them.

The difference is that fire fighters, as a brotherhood, and through their Fill-the-Boot efforts, have a special opportunity to capitalize on their numbers and wield their unity to create a matchless force for good works.


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