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Sleeping under the stars for MD

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Almost no sooner did Winnipeg fireman Chad Swayze – who’d been camping out on top of Winnipeg fire station #4 for two whole days – express hope over his cell that "we don’t get too much snow," than it started drifting down.

Luckily, Swayze and his three colleagues had a "pretty good," if non-insulated, tent along with gas heaters. In the negative column, they were only allowed five minutes every hour to use the bathroom.

Nonetheless, Swayze and two of his companions chalked up their fourth consecutive year roughing it as part of a province-wide initiative to raise money and long-term awareness for Muscular Dystrophy Canada.

"This campout has really helped clarify for the general public just what MD is," says Kristen Pachet, revenue development director for MDC. She also credits similar public education initiatives by Safeway, most recently in Aug. 2012 across Northwestern Ontario and Western Canada.

"That kind of awareness is invaluable," Pachet continues. "And these guys are such great spokespeople."

"We want to make clear that MD and MS, or Multiple Sclerosis, are completely different," Swayze says.

As defined on MDC’s website, MD denotes a group of neuromuscular disorders characterized by progressive weakness and wasting of the voluntary muscles that control body movement.
Swayze and fellows Joel Savard, T.J. Belluk and Al Barkley (retired) were hoisted in full gear onto the roof of 150 Osborne St. by an aerial ladder on Tues., March 12 and stayed 24-7 until March 15.

While on the roof, the firemen had a boot hanging off the edge: when people below made a donation, they would pull on a rope to ring a bell.

Other fire fighters were also soliciting donations from passing drivers during rush hour, with businesses along Osborne doing their own individual fund- and awareness-raising.

"We’ve been getting lots of honks and waves," laughs Swayze, who was on the planning committee "from day one" several years ago. "And doing it once a year has a good ‘shock’ effect.’"

There are now 12 fire departments across Canada doing likewise, he continues. The Osborne station is in direct "friendly" competition with the Brandon fire department as well as others countrywide to raise the most money.

It was a friendly challenge from Edmonton firefighters, who had themselves been fundraising using the same gimmick, that set the ball rolling locally here, Swayze says.

The first year, he continues, no one knew what the monetary results would be: the goal was set at $25,000, and subsequently achieved.

Ever since, the target has been $30,000, which has been unfailingly hit (the unofficial target for 2013 was $35,000).

Devotion by Canadian firefighters to this particular charity stretches back in time almost 60 years.

"In 1954, MDC approached me and my fellow firefighters in Toronto to help build and retrofit some homes for MD patients," says the 70 year-old retired Barkley, who’s roof squatting for his second time.

It all seems to be working: Pachet has noticed overall yearly donations have shot up in the last four years.

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Twitter: @souwesterWPG

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