Local firefighters seek to ?give burns the boot'

By Clay Wilson

To a child trapped in a burning house, the sound of a firefighter's boots can mean a chance for life.

To a child who has been burned in a fire, a firefighter's boots can mean the chance at a more normal life – if for no more than a week.

Since Thursday, Henry and Clayton counties' firefighters have been participating in the annual "Give Burns the Boot" drive, taking collections at several of the major intersections.

Sponsored by the Georgia Firefighters' Burn Foundation, the campaign is the GBBF's major yearly fundraiser.

"If it wasn't for the firefighters in the state (being) willing to get out and collect, we couldn't do the things we do," said GFBF Executive Director John Kilpatrick.

What the GFBF does is to promote fire safety and burn education awareness throughout the state. Kilpatrick said that last year, the foundation sponsored programs that reached 80,000 children.

But the foundation also works to help those who have already fallen victim to burns. It supports the burn centers at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and one in Augusta, and smaller trauma units throughout the state.

And it holds the annual "Camp OO-U-La," Cherokee for "Cool Running Water," which allows children from the state's burn centers to attend a week of camp each year free of charge.

"It lets them be kids again for a week," said Kilpatrick. "They get here wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts (to hide their scars), and by the end of the week we have them in shorts and tank tops."

Henry County Fire Department Lt. Sabrina Puckett has been to Camp OO-U-La and seen what it does for young burn victims.

"It's something you really have to see," she said. "It's very therapeutic, not only physically but mentally.

"It's a week for the kids to escape the stares of the other 360 days."

The knowledge of what their efforts make possible spurs on the firefighters who take eight-hour shifts in the hot June sun collecting donations from passing motorists in their boots.

"I would say that 99 percent of the guys don't mind going out there and collecting for what we're collecting for," said Clayton County Fire Department Sgt. David Hamilton.

Hamilton, who was taking a lunch break from his Friday boot shift, said he has been working the boot drive with Clayton County for several years.

According to Lt. J.B. Brown, the CCFD has been participating in the drive for about a decade. Last year, he said, the department collected around $49,000, the fifth-highest collection in the state.

Henry County, which holds two drives each year, came in first in the state last year with more than $108,400. It was the first time since the boot drive began in 1990 that a department surpassed the $100,000 mark.

"We were very excited about that ?," said Kilpatrick. " – I don't mean to diminish what everyone else does, but we think Henry County is magnificent."

Puckett said that Henry County hopes to meet – if not surpass – last year's collection. She said about 45 firefighters would work each day.

In Clayton County, about 60 firefighters were working the intersections. Brown said the department hadn't set a specific goal.

"I always say as much as we can," he said.

Henry County Station One firefighter Jorge Rodriguez was doing his best at the Ga. Highway 20 exit ramp off I-75, hustling from one car to another from which drivers extended their hands with cash.

Rodriguez admitted that it gets hot in the June sun, but, as a several-year veteran of the drive, indicated that he thinks it's worth it.

"It's a very, very good cause and you help others," he said. "You get a lot out of it."

But Rodriguez also gave a nod to the citizens who pause to donate – without whom Puckett said the drive would not be nearly as successful.

"The community around here really pitches in ?," he said. " – We've got a lot of good citizens here."