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MDA boot campaign goal passed

Fort Wayne firefighters raise more than $100,000 in 3 days

A dollar bill was rare back in the day.

So rare that if Fort Wayne firefighters got one thrown into the boot for past MDA “Fill the Boot” campaigns, they’d hold it up for others to see.

“We’d turn around and be like, ‘Paper money!’ ” said Capt. Randy Zion, who’s been a part of the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s three-day fundraiser for at least two decades.

But it’s no longer back in the day.

During a three-day stretch in the past week, firefighters were inundated with plenty of ones, plenty of fives and 10s, a lot of 20s and, at least once, even a C-note, folded up and hidden by a woman who cupped it in the palm of her hand before dropping it into a boot and driving away.

And for the first time in its 60-year history, local firefighters raised more than $100,000 for the campaign.

“It’s been our goal for years,” Zion said. “We’ve been so close several times.”

The exact figure raised was just shy of $114,000, according to Ashley Zumstein, executive director of the local MDA office.

Last year city firefighters raised $98,000, which was then a record and $15,000 more than they gathered up in 2012.

Why the big spike? It’s hard to say.

Zumstein credits a story earlier this month by The Journal Gazette’s Chris Meyers that profiled Landon Conley, an 8-year-old boy who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is the son of Fort Wayne firefighter Ty Conley.

That story put a “face to the cause,” Zumstein said. Plus, firefighters like to take care of their own, she said. Add to that the competitive streak in firefighters – some crews wanting to raise more than other crews – and you had the recipe for a record-breaking year.

“There was a lot of fun competitiveness, and the MDA really harnesses that,” Zumstein said, adding that the organization is also leading the nation in ALS research, which is driving all the ice bucket challenges spreading across the Internet.

Zion said he couldn’t explain the increase other than by the fact that city residents are behind the firefighters and they know what the cause is all about.

In 60 years, the local firefighters’ union has raised $530 million total for the MDA, making it the top-ranked union in Fill the Boot campaigns in the state, Zumstein said.

“The MDA is amazingly impressed and grateful,” she added.