NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Every year, firefighters across the nation take to the streets to fill their often 6- to 7-inch-tall boots to the brim with donations from drivers on their daily commutes.
It’s an age-old tradition that drivers in Nashville might have seen firefighters partaking in this week, with crews of men and women in bright yellow vests holding up signs and coming up to cars stopped at various intersections.
At first glance, it might seem striking to see several firefighters swarming the roadways. But there’s a reason why crews take a week out of every year to “Fill the Boot.”
It started in the 1950s when, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), a child in New York was diagnosed with a genetic disorder known as muscular dystrophy. The disease causes muscle weakness, which can eventually decrease mobility and make everyday tasks difficult.
Although considered rare, there are many kinds of muscular dystrophy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each affects a specific muscle group, with symptoms appearing at different ages and varying in severity.
Thousands of children are diagnosed with muscular dystrophy globally each year, typically around the age of 5. There is still no cure, and many people with the condition do not live beyond 30.
Back in the 1950s, the child’s family could find only one clinician in all of America who specialized in studying the disorder. Going door-to-door, the family raised a few thousand dollars and gave it to that clinician, sparking a movement toward further research on the disease.
Then in 1952, another family affected by muscular dystrophy approached a member of Boston Firefighters Local 718 to ask for help raising money to cover medical bills. Eager to help, the firefighter and about 20 of his fellow crewmembers took to the streets with their boots in hand to ask Greater Boston for donations.
According to MDA, the first Fill the Boot campaign was an “instant success,” with firefighters raising over $5,000 just by going door-to-door that year.
Just two years later, in 1954, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) signed a proclamation designating MDA as its charity of choice and vowing to continue raising funds for research on treatments and therapies.
Almost 70 years later, the IAFF continues to be the top fundraising organization for MDA, with more than $690 million raised as of 2022. Last year alone, firefighters raised almost $12 million in donations for MDA. That averaged to about $13,885 per fire department.
MDA has since been able to fund research directly linked to FDA-approved therapies across multiple neuromuscular diseases, with major breakthroughs in 1986 and 1987, and at least 18 FDA-approved treatments in existence today.
However, researchers are continuously working to learn more about the rare genetic disorder and improve the lives of those suffering from muscular dystrophy. Just as firefighters continue hitting the streets to fill their boots.
In Nashville, firefighters’ week-long campaign will come to an end on Saturday, Sept. 9. But donations can still be made online. As of Sept. 7, the Nashville Firefighters Local 140 had raised $1,790 of its $3,000 goal through online donations. To find out more or contribute, click here.