Lincolnshire firefighters aim to ‘raise the bar’ in relaunching MDA boot campaign

Steve Shetsky, president of Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Professional Fire Fighters Association local 4224. | Submitted
Steve Shetsky, president of Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Professional Fire Fighters Association local 4224. | Submitted

Lincolnshire’s firefighters will be on the streets again.

After going a few years without participating in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s “Fill the Boot” fundraising campaign, the group will be looking for donations for the next three weekends at Lincolnshire’s busiest intersection.

“We got away from it the last few years, I guess because of life, basically,” said Steve Shetsky, president of Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 4224. “We’ve gotten back into it, finally.”

This year marks the campaign’s 60th anniversary, and the firefighters will be at the intersection of Illinois Route 22 and Milwaukee Avenue from 7:30-10:30 a.m. Sept. 12, 19 and 26.

In recent years, the group averaged between $2,500 and $3,500 in donations — less than nearby departments at equally high-traffic corners, Shetsky said.

“We’re hoping to raise the bar this year,” he said. “Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights and Berwyn — they’ve done a really good job.

Q: How did firefighters come to be the regular fund-raisers for the MDA?

A: It’s pretty interesting that you bring this up. Back 60 years ago, there were some Boston firefighters that were on the job, and one of their friends came down with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS. And some of the guys just went out on a street corner with a boot and tried to raise some money for him. MDA falls under ALS’s umbrella, and one thing led to another. Now, around 50 percent of their total income comes from the firefighters.

Q: The International Association of Fire Fighters’ official statement reads that it is committed to the MDA until a cure is found. That may not come in our lifetimes. The international union has raised $350 million so far — are scientists much closer to a solution?

A: Well, earlier this week, they just published something that they think they might have stumbled onto something that could, eventually, lead to a cure. I don’t know if words can express the joy I’d feel if that happened. A couple of months ago, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS, so this has a personal touch.

Q: Firefighters always have weird stories of the things that show up in the boot, things that people accidentally — or maybe intentionally — grab when they’re digging through the change holder in the car. What’s the oddest thing you’ve found so far?

A: I wish I had a more exciting story for you, but, fortunately, everybody’s pretty giving and caring with this topic.

Q: You noted that muscular dystrophy falls under the ALS umbrella … and ALS is raking in new funding this summer with the ice bucket challenge. Have the MDA or the firefighters unions thought about turning “Fill the Boot” into something new or different to try to capitalize on social media? Or, since this brand is already strong, would trying to change it now be counter-productive?

A: We have, as a firefighters union across the country, embraced the ice-bucket challenge. My wife and children and I all did it. But, we don’t want to short-change the other parts of MDA that aren’t ice-bucket-challenge related.

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