Fightfighters tackle MDA


Martinsville firefighter and Henry County Public Safety employees trained together last year. Their new union this weekend will raise money to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

{p}A small group of first responders from Martinsville and Henry County are hoping to make a big difference this Saturday. But they’re not planning to fight fires or perform CPR – although both certainly could happen at any time — but, rather, on this weekend, inspired somewhat by the family of a fellow firefighter, they said they hope to be be saving lives in a different way.{/div}{p}{/div}{p}They are raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through a Fill the Boot program.{/div}{p}{/div}{p}Comprised of members of non-volunteer agencies Henry County Public Service and Martinsville Fire and EMS, the Martinsville-Henry County Professional Fire EMS Association L5166 was founded last year. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday they will be at Kroger, located at 240 Commonwealth Blvd W in Martinsville.{/div}{p} “It’s a division of the IAFF, which is the International Association of Firefighters. You have to be employed by some kind of fire department, whether it’s a public safety or some agency that does fire suppression,” said Crystal Harbour, a Henry County Public Safety firefighter and paramedic who serves as the communications specialist for the L5116 group. “There’s no other paid department in Martinsville-Henry County that also does fire suppression. As of right now, it’s just these two.” As part of a larger national group, each district association selects at least one countrywide fundraiser to benefit each year. On Saturday, the local association plans to participate in a national fundraiser for the MDA.{/div}{p}{/div}{p}“One of the Danville firefighter’s children suffers from muscular dystrophy,” Harbour said. “He’s also a member of the union. So we do it in honor of everyone, but especially since they’re so close.”{/div}{p} The premise of the Fill the Boot fundraiser is that people interested in giving to the MDA may be so generous that a firefighter’s boot overflows with vital monetary donations, which go to a wide array of resources at the MDA. Donations raised from events like the one taking place in Martinsville on Saturday fund clinical and scientific research grants, over 150 care centers at the nation’s top medical institutions, treatments, the MOVR Data Hub, a resource center for those diagnosed with neuromuscular disease, MDA Engage community events and sending approximately 4,000 kids to over 50 MDA summer camps across the country at no cost to families. “The funds raised for this organization since 1950 have laid the groundwork for incredible life-saving breakthroughs including eight treatments since 2015, where none existed before,” said Mary Fiance, MDA director of public relations and communications. Fire fighter contributions from year-round local events help support MDA’s efforts to raise awareness and provide professional and public education about neuromuscular diseases. Over the past 65-years, firefighters have raised more than $650 million for the MDA. An estimated 250,000 Americans suffer from a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Muscular dystrophy causes a progressive loss of muscle mass resulting in weakness and, sometimes, loss of mobility. There are many different kinds of muscular dystrophy, each affecting different groups of muscles and different ages of people from children to adults. The MDA is committed to creating new treatment options and fundraising drives like the one by the L5116 group is helping to make that possible. A recent report by the MDA revealed that advancements in genetic testing and precision medicine will alter radically the course of neuromuscular disease within the next decade. The report illuminates the role that big data technologies will play in revolutionizing the importance of newborn early genetic screening, intervention and treatment as a pathway to accelerating new therapies. Taking part in the national Fill the Boot campaign for the first time, members of this recently formed union said they don’t have a specific monetary goal in mind. “We’re just glad that anyone will donate. All of the proceeds go directly to the MDA,” Harbour said. “We figured it kind of kills two birds with one stone. You’re there shopping for groceries anyway. If you have a little change left over, throwing it into our boot would be great.” Tracy Denton, MDA national vice president of organizational partnerships, noted that the funds raised at events such as Fill the Boot will help people not only across the United States but also in the backyards of those who participate in the fundraiser. “MDA is thrilled to work with the IAFF and local fire departments to help provide the funds needed to find treatments and cures for muscular dystrophy, ALS and related neuromuscular diseases that severely limit strength and mobility,” Denton said. “Families from the Virginia area benefit from treatments recently approved by the FDA. These treatments have proven to lessen the effects of the diseases, stop progression and in some cases reverse the effects – doing things they have never been able to. Funds raised by these heroes also benefit MDA summer camps and MDA care centers to care for the kids and adults in Virginia.” {/div}

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