Firefighters Treat 7-Year-Old As Part Of Fundraiser
By JACQUE HILBURN SIMMONS
Young Mitchell Smith, 7, of Tyler seems to be a typical boy -- he enjoys visiting fire stations, examining creepy crawlies and camping out with his fellow Cub Scouts.
What he doesn't like is the way muscular dystrophy is affecting his mobility, forcing him to depend more and more on a wheelchair.
"It kind of makes me angry to know that it's trying to take over my muscles," he said, his small brow furrowing in frustration.
On Wednesday, the child received a rare treat: the opportunity to leave the wheelchair behind and sit behind the wheel of a fire truck.
"I like this," he said, grinning widely as firefighters Logan Luttrell- and Russell Jowell showed him how to activate the emergency lights.
"He's an avid scout and tries to be as active as he can," proud dad Gary Smith said. "He's a good, sweet boy -- it would do our heart good, and his too, if they could find a cure."
The family's plight is center stage to the Tyler Fire Department's annual "Fill the Boot" campaign, which starts Friday and continues through Sunday.
The Tyler Professional Firefighters Association is collecting money to help support families and fund research that could lead to a cure for the neuromuscular disease, organization president Tony Gumber said.
Collection sites can be found in the parking lot of Lowe's on South Broadway Avenue and Wal-Mart locations on Troup Highway and Texas Highway 64 West.
"This is the 58th year that the fire department joined departments all over Texas," Fire Chief Tim Johnson said. "This is a really a good cause."
Last year Texas firefighters raised more than $3.5 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association; more than $435 million since 1954, records show.
"We'd like for everyone to join us," drive coordinator Morgan Herron said. "The Firefighters' Association and city of Tyler partnered together to raise these funds -- when people see the fire trucks, they understand what we're doing."
Tyler firefighters collected more than $17,000 in last year's drive, said Fire Marshal Paul Findley, adding, "We're hoping for another successful year."
This type of local support is critical for meeting the needs, Meredith Honeycutt, MDA executive director, said.
Roughly 400 area families receive assistance from the Muscular Dystrophy association, which provides help with everything from comprehensive health care to leg braces and wheelchairs.
"The Muscular Dystrophy Association covers 43 diseases, Mitchell's is just one of them," Candace Pate, fundraising coordinator, said. "We give over $200 million for research."
City officials were quick to pledge their support.
Mayor Barbara Bass was the first to donate.
"We're here for a great cause," the mayor told the boy, popping a handful of bills into his boot.
Councilman Martin Heines was the second to step forward.
"Our fire department goes above and beyond to protect and serve," the councilman said. "I want to support them in their efforts."
City Manager Mark McDaniel said he admired the commitment behind the efforts, which extend beyond the workplace and into the heart.
"This is something to be proud of," he said. "These are public servants going out of their way to give to the community -- the boy's dad is one of our employees and he's always giving back to the community."
Supporting the "Fill the Boot" campaign is a way to return the support, the manager said.
The mayor agreed.
"I'm here because of our firefighters," Mayor Bass said. "It's a cause they have supported for almost 60 years -- this is a statement of who they are and I want to be there for them."
Peering at the wad of cash in the bottom of the boot, little Mitchell seemed pleased with the initial response to the collection drive.
"I'm very happy about it," he said.