Fire Fighters and MDA: A Historic Partnership
One Man's Vision Becomes an IAFF Tradition
The lifelong bond between the IAFF and MDA is well acknowledged but, how did it all start?
The tradition began 51 years ago, when a father in desperate need ran to IAFF member George Graney's Fire Engine Company 1 in South Boston. The man's name was Charlie Crowley, father of two crippled sons and a high school friend of George Graney.
"They will not live to be 21 years old," said a somber Crowley. Crowley's sons couldn't walk, attend school, run around, or play games with their friends. The doctors had diagnosed both the children with muscular dystrophy, an incurable and dreadful disease.
Charlie Crowley needed money to take care of his sons. IAFF Local 718 member Graney immediately rounded up 20 fire fighters and set in motion a door-to-door canister drive that raised $5,000. Graney soon learned that there were many families and suffering children like those of Crowley, and Graney made it his lifetime mission to help such families and children. In 1953, he launched a citywide fundraising campaign with the help of fire fighters across Boston. Graney joined hands with Crowley and made presentations across Massachusetts about children suffering from Muscular Dystrophy.
Feeling confident from his success in the commonwealth, Graney suggested Crowley and his friends at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to go nationwide with fire fighters in their fundraising efforts. Realizing the potential of fire fighters and their excellent image in the community, Graney and Crowley approached and convinced IAFF members to promote the cause of MDA and to raise money for it.
Finally, between August 9 - 14 1954, Graney raised his voice at the IAFF's 22nd convention in Miami and proposed to make MDA the International's "charity of choice." MDA's Luis Grant, a victim of muscular dystrophy, gave a tear jerking presentation to the IAFF members and Graney's proposal was approved with fervor. This marked the beginning of a formal bond between the IAFF and MDA. Since then, fire fighters have taken Graney's vision and made it their mission, raising funds a thousand ways: by placing collection jars in stores and restaurants; sponsoring charity softball games, and running auctions. These days their favorite fund raising activity is the "fill the boot" drive at intersections and sports venues.
George Graney, 90, founder of the MDA "Fill the Boot" campaign and past president of Boston, MA Local 718 died in Boston, Massachusetts on December 21, 2004. Graney retired from the fire service in 1969.
Graney's eyes were not strong enough to see the world, but the world could see the splendor of this man's heart that has touched the lives of millions. Graney's life gets richer every day, with blessings of people helped by the IAFF's contributions to MDA.
Graney was honored by IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger at a special ceremony held during the 2004 IAFF Convention in Boston. "He gave a gift to MDA families and our union that has lasted 50 years. With George's work now done, it is our responsibility to make sure that the legacy of the IAFF-MDA relationship continues to grow," Schaitberger said.
The IAFF has emerged as the single largest sponsor of the MDA under the leadership of General President Schaitberger, who is also a Vice President of MDA.
The money raised by the IAFF is used for research and treatments to prolong children's lives. It is spent on braces and wheelchairs, on community health centers, support groups, and summer camps. Just as in their profession, fire fighters are determined to fight the battle against neuromuscular diseases that haunt the faces of innocents.