Firefighters ready for Fill the Boot Drive
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Aug. 17, 2006 -- For many, the upcoming Labor Day holiday represents a day free of work, or maybe barbecues and one last outdoor weekend with family and friends.

For firefighters across the region, Labor Day weekend heralds as many as three days spent pounding city pavements with boots in hand to collect funds for charity. Sulphur Springs Fire Department is no exception.

From Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, Sulphur Springs firemen will be stationed at their designated corners, accepting monetary donations for the annual Fill The Boot fund drive to raise money to benefit East Texas children via the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Motorists are asked to be alert when traveling through the red lights at the intersection of Linda Drive and Gilmer Street beside SSFD Station 2, and when driving past the downtown square, where firemen will be stationed with boots in hand at the corners of Oak Avenue and College Street, Jefferson and Church Streets, and possibly even Jefferson Street at Oak Avenue.

Firefighters will be out from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily between service calls, accepting "anything and everything" in the manner of monetary donations which community members and motorists wish to toss into the firemen's boots as they pass.

This year marks at least the 16th in which Sulphur Springs firefighters have participated in the Fill the Boot drive. Not only does this big-hearted community continue each year to outshine other cities and counties, but area residents continue to outdo themselves, setting new records each year for amounts donated to the MDA Fill the Boot Drive.

Last year, the firemen collected a record $13,081.50, putting Sulphur Springs at the top of the honor roll. Two years ago., $12,97.63 was donated.

In 2003, despite the slow economy, SSFD's drive continued its record setting trend, bringing in a total of $10,631.76 collected in firefighters' boots from passing motorists. SSFD collected $8,200 in funds in 2002, a year in which East Texas firefighters collectively raised $35,800. In 2000, the dedicated group sent a check for $8,500 to MDA that included the $600 collected by their support group Sirens, which consists of wives and friends of the fire department, through tables set up at local stores. In 1999, SSFD raised $6,983.56, setting a department record, and again placed them at the top of the Fire Fighter Honor Roll.

SSFD Capt. Charlie Vaughn said the ranking is an honor for the community, an award for Hopkins County's generous spirit for those in need, particularly children with medical difficulties.

"We appreciate everyone's support and cooperation with this effort. It all goes to such a good cause," said Vaughn, who coordinates the local event. "We want to collect as much as we can. Whatever people can give, we'll appreciate it muchly."

While being named on the firefighter's list for raising the most money is this area is quite an honor, the firefighters are quick to point out that it's not the award that counts, but being able to raise as much as they can for such a worthy cause. This year's goal, like that set annually for the drive, is to collect as much money as possible to benefit the children MDA serves.

The firefighters apologize in advance for the inconvenience and ask for motorists patience while they brave traffic to earn money for MDA and the kids it serves. They encourage everyone to dig into their consoles and ashtrays, as well as couch cushions and coin jars to give to the drive for every penny they can spare for MDA.

"Every penny counts," said Vaughn.

Vaughn said that Sulphur Springs is fortunate to have the support of city officials, who each year have granted written permission for the firemen to stand at the street corners collecting funds, and to Fire Chief Gerry Cleaver, who allows uniformed firefighters to participate while on duty. Also, they expressed gratitude to Guaranty Bond Bank, which not only collects and counts the money for them, but also is open during a special time over the weekend so that the firefighters can deposit the bountiful booty.

The funds raised from Fill the Boot are used to fund research, health care services such as group sessions, physical, occupational or respiratory therapy, helps provide wheelchairs, leg braces and communications devices for those with a muscular dystrophy or disease, as well as fund public education programs and summer camp for children assisted by MDA.

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