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Clayton firefighters raise money for burn victims

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

On a daily basis, firefighters risk their lives fighting fires.

Annually, they come together in a different way, to help burn victims.

Recently, Clayton County firefighters braved the county's busiest intersections to raise money for burn victims throughout the state of Georgia.

From Thursday to Saturday, the fire department hosted its annual boot drive for the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation (GFBF). From about 8 a.m., to 4 p.m., each day, firefighters ventured into heavy traffic, asking passing motorists to fill their boots with cash donations.

Landry Merkison, battalion chief of the Clayton County Fire Department, said while there are risks involved, the rewards for the boot drive are great. He said all the money goes to the GFBF to assist the victims of serious burns.

"I've been here for 13 years and I know we have done it every year I have been here," said Merkison. "They sponsor a big camp every year for kids who have been burn victims, so it is a very worthwhile cause.

"We go out of our way to save people," Merkison continued. "That's our job. This is an effort to help these people get their life back."

On Friday afternoon, Lt. Bo Cheek, of Fire Station 13 in Jonesboro, carefully walked between cars near the intersection of Tara Boulevard and North Avenue, all the while, taking donations with a rubber fireman's boot.

Cheek said part of conducting a successful boot drive is technique.

"You definitely have to watch what you are doing," said Cheek. "I try to tell people to wait until somebody stops and waves a dollar. If you run up to them ... they might not see you."

Despite the danger, Cheek said the boot drive gives firefighters a chance to interact with the public and receive compliments, which are often forgotten in the midst of a fire rescue.

"You do get thanked for your job from time to time," said Cheek. "That's always nice, because usually, they don't have time to thank us because we're running to save them. I had a guy give me a $20 bill and had said that he was one of the people who was burned and got helped. It's good to see that he was able to get some benefit out of it."

Cheek said the boot drive also shows the community that firefighters aren't just waiting for fires to happen.

"A lot of people have a bad concept of firemen sitting around all day and doing nothing," said Cheek. "This is another way of letting the community know that we are out here."