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September 18, 2014

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Firefighters giving MD the boot

WEEKEND EDITION

August 21 - 22, 2004

Some boots were made only for walking.

Others, such as those worn by Las Vegas Valley firefighters, are multipurpose.

Starting next week hundreds of area firefighters will kick off their boots and take to the streets in an effort to kick off the 44th Annual Las Vegas Boot Drive, a fund-raiser to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a national charity that raises money for the research and treatment of neuromuscular diseases affecting nearly 1 million Americans.

The boot drive begins Thursday and culminates in the 39th annual MDA Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, which is set to air during the Labor Day weekend.

Organizers of the telethon hope the program, airing on KLAS Channel 8 and Las Vegas ONE, will break last year's record total of $60.5 million, of which about $739,000 was raised in Las Vegas.

Firefighters from companies in Las Vegas, Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas who are organizing the local boot drive also hope to break a fund-raising record.

Last year the boot drive collected $442,000 from generous valley motorists. This year the crews are aiming for the half-million mark.

"We would love to be able to hit the half-million mark this year," said Scott Allison, a fireman for Clark County, who also sits on the local MDA executive board. "But whatever the people in the valley want to give is great."

Firefighters collect the money on dozens of street corners around the valley over the course of four days. This year they'll be out in full force on Thursday and Friday, then again Sept. 2 and 3.

Representatives from the group will then present a check representing the total collected live on television during the nationwide telethon.

But the money raised here stays here, Allison said.

It's used to support a clinic for area residents with varying forms of muscular dystrophy, the purchasing and repair of wheelchairs, a support group for patients and family members and a summer camp in Lake Tahoe for those under age 21.

Dale Swafford, a firefighter with the Henderson Fire Department for seven years, said he participates in the annual boot drive because he loves helping children. He can't believe how much valley residents contribute.

"Every year it amazes us the generosity of the valley," Swafford said. "They come out in a big way to help us help the kids."

Angelo Aragon, a fire captain with the Las Vegas Fire Department, is also astounded by the kindness of motorists, who happily donate cash to the firefighters moseying through the intersections at red lights.

He said he sees the benefits of the boot drive firsthand when a child receives a new motorized wheelchair his family couldn't otherwise afford.

"It's a very good cause. It's a whole lot of hard work, but the results are incredible," Aragon said. "I can see more than most people how the money we raise helps MDA families."

Clark County's Allison said the money the boot drive raises for the MDA summer camp in Lake Tahoe, which was a week in July this year, is crucial to the lives of hundreds of children in Southern Nevada.

"The children are all equal up there," Allison said, explaining how children at camp are able to be themselves, even onstage at the camp's annual talent show. "You see kids doing stuff up there you wouldn't normally see. They're not afraid to get up in front of other kids and do something they wouldn't normally do."

Paul Martin, who was first diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy in 1973, said the camp is so successful, hearing stories about it made him wish he were a child again so that he could attend, too.

This year, at the launch of the boot drive, Martin, who is president of Nevadans for Equal Access, and his wife will provide cake as a thank you to firefighters for their work over the years collecting money to benefit MDA, of which Martin is also a client.

"It's the least we can do," Martin said. "These guys are out there just going crazy."

Steve Larson, the owner of 24 branches of Carl's Jr. in Las Vegas, also supports the firefighters. Along with Subway, he feeds the firefighters who collect money for the cause.

"They're out there in the heat, working hard," Larson said. "And we want to show them our appreciation."

Michelle Garrott, whose daughter Kristin Walters, 10, is the state's goodwill ambassador for the MDA, hopes research funded by the charity through the boot drive and the telethon will one day cure muscular dystrophy illnesses.

In the meantime, her daughter, who has a form of muscular dystrophy that confines her to a wheelchair, looks forward to summer camp funded by the boot drive.

Referring to the camp, her mother said, "It's better than all the holidays put together."

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