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Firefighters filling boots for muscular dystrophy

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Firefighters in the City of McDonough are taking to the streets today, to raise money for an organization dedicated to eradicating a deadly disease.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual "Fill-the-Boot" drive will continue throughout the day on the Square, and on Ga. Highway 20/81, near Interstate 75.

Firefighters and emergency medical technicians with the department have participated in the charity effort for several years, according to McDonough Fire Deputy Chief Jim Harvey.

One of the reasons for their involvement, he explained, is because muscular disease has affected one of their own. Former McDonough firefighter, Lt. Tim Albe, died in July of 2007, due to a form of muscular dystrophy.

Harvey said the department's commitment to fighting the disease has increased, in part, because of a request made by their fallen co-worker before he died. "MDA had flown [Albe] to Pennsylvania for extensive treatment," said Harvey. "He told us ... if we didn't support anything else, to support [them], because they always helped him out."

The department hopes to surpass the $5,000 in donations it collected in last year's drive.

MDA's district director, Jaquan Jackson, was present for the boot drive in McDonough. She said the association places a great value on the fund-raising efforts of local firefighters. "We're looking for treatments and cures," Jackson said. "That is impossible to do without funding research. It's great to partner with organizations like the fire department, because it brings awareness of the fight against muscular disease, to citizens in the community."

The district director said a total of five research programs are currently being sponsored in Georgia by the MDA.

Clayton County Fire Battalion Chief, Landry Merkison, said his department is not participating in an MDA drive this year, but has done so in the past. He said being active in such fund-raisers is a way to increase involvement in the community. "It gets our personnel out into the area, and lets firefighters interact with people," said Merkison. "It's all about community service and benefiting charities."

The Clayton department has scheduled a boot drive for October, to benefit the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation as part of Fire Prevention Week.

McDonough Fire Sgt. Kenneth Doyle was among the men accepting donations from passers-by for the drive Friday. He said Lt. Albe - one of his first partners at the department - was at the forefront of his mind as he did so.

Doyle, a firefighter for the last nine years, said he relishes the opportunity to make a positive impact in the community. "It's always good to know that you're doing something to help other people," said Doyle, 27. "That's basically our job function. This is another way we can [do that], particularly for families who may not be able to work, due to caring for another family member with an illness."

When the department conducts a drive, the firefighters are often summoned to a fire location or another type of call, thus interrupting their efforts to collect money. "The more calls we run, it becomes harder to do stuff like this," said Doyle. "But, knowing the money actually goes to a cause we've seen affect somebody we know, is definitely a driving force."

He noted that the boot drive often brings out the best in local residents, who are typically eager to show their appreciation for the fire department's efforts on behalf of MDA. "Most people will thank me while they're giving me money, which you normally don't see too often," he said. "You'd be surprised how generous people are."