Though not every day requires the men and women of the Forest Park Fire Department to rescue a potential victim, there are other ways to play a hero’s role. On Friday, Aug. 22 members of the department will take off their boots and step into the streets for another selfless act.
Between 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., firefighters will be at the intersections of Franklin and Desplaines streets and Jackson and Circle streets collecting donations for the nationwide Fill the Boot campaign to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It is the third and final fundraising push this month for the department. Fill the Boot is a roadside campaign in which firefighters greet motorists from street corners and ask them to drop donations into firefighter boots.
“It’s a great cause and we are proud to help out by collecting money for research,” Forest Park firefighter Phil Damato said. “The MDA has always had a good relationship with the IAFF.”
The International Association of Fire Fighters, or IAFF, is an AFL-CIO affiliated labor union representing firefighters and emergency medical personnel in the United States and Canada. The association became a national sponsor of the MDA in 1954. Last year, the IAFF raised $25 million for MDA nationwide.
Forest Park’s firefighters have participated in the campaign since 1990, and last year collected a record $2,840. This month, their goal has been elevated to $4,500.
“The Forest Park Fire Department has come up with a lot of money to benefit MDA through the years,” Gina Iorio, MDA program coordinator for Chicago, said. “Working with them has been a great pleasure. It’s a great fire department that will really do anything to help their local community.”
Along with the majority of other local fire departments involved in Fill the Boot, all donations collected by local firefighters for the fundraising campaign will be allocated to the Chicago MDA. The money will be used to help area families afflicted by neuromuscular disease. The funding helps send kids to summer camp, and pays for clinic visits, flu shots, wheelchairs, leg braces, communication devices, support groups and social events.
“The Fill the Boot program is genius,” Iorio said. “People are very generous and it is much appreciated.”
Damato said the monetary donations, coupled with kind words from passing motorists, make Fill the Boot an intrinsically rewarding experience.
“I enjoy helping out and doing my part,” he said. “The community knows who we are and they see our uniforms as currency for trust. People often say ‘thank you’ or bring us bottles of water. We’re thankful to them, as well as the village, which allows us to do this every year.”
Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke, who has been involved with the campaign for several years, fully supports the annual fundraiser. Additionally, the department works in tandem with other area fire stations to raise money for several charitable causes.
During Labor Day weekend, WGN-TV will televise the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Since 1966, the telethon has raised $1.46 billion to fight muscular dystrophy. Several firefighters will be given an opportunity to appear on the broadcast to present their checks.
“Jerry Lewis acts as the public face and spokesperson of MDA,” Iorio added. “He helps us voice what MDA is all about and lets people know what they can do to help.”
Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of genetic, hereditary muscle diseases that cause progressive muscle weakness. There are nine primary forms of muscular dystrophy, often costing people the use of their arms, legs and hands. A person’s speech can also be affected.
None of the firefighters in Forest Park said they’ve ever had a family member or friend diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, but the MDA said the disease can have dramatic impacts on an individual’s life.
Dennis Haas, a retired firefighter from Texas, wrote a letter to Jerry Lewis several years ago describing how his wife was affected by (ALS) amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In a span of six months, the woman lost the use of limbs and had to quit her job. Due to the loss of income, the family was forced to give up their home.
The MDA and IAFF said stories like that one reinforce their commitment to finding a cure.
“It is a fundraiser built from the idea that every penny, every dollar makes a difference,” Iorio said. “It’s just incredible how quickly it all adds up.
In addition to donating money during the Fill the Boot campaign, people who wish to find out more information or volunteer for MDA can call the Chicago office at (312) 254-0632.