Firefighters have a good reputation in the community for a reason

Sir Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” When I started hearing through the grapevine about all of the charitable work of the Sault Ste. Marie firefighters, this quote sprung to mind.

We read about them fighting fires, our kids bring home their fire-prevention material, and we see photos of them using the Jaws of Life at car collisions, but firefighters do so much more in our community, so quietly, that it’s quite astonishing.

They just finished their seventh annual hockey fundraiser in early May and did their annual Boot Drive for Muscular Dystrophy this past weekend, both with little to no fanfare. They raise funds for the Lung Association or Crime Stoppers with a truck pull, help load vehicles for Christmas Cheer, and visit the Sault Area Hospital pediatric unit at Christmas with stuffed “fire bears” as gifts. In terms of charitable contributions from their charities account, last year alone they gave $1,000 to the Elks oncology van, $500 to Easter Seals, and made more than 140 other $200-plus donations.

Maybe because of some of the atrocities and poor living conditions they see in their line of work, they feel called or compelled to help the community even more. Perhaps the job just attracts good guys. Maybe the job makes them good guys. I don’t know the answer.

The firefighters I know are not loud, boisterous men needing the limelight, except, perhaps, when you get too many of them together for drinks or in the hockey arena. They are strong, nurturing individuals happy to take a backseat and let others shine. They are brave, yet humble.

According to their website, the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Firefighters Association has 97 members “dedicated to the well being and betterment of the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie.” I’d say they’re succeeding, considering that, in addition to the dangerous work they do and the fundraising they take part in, many firefighters are also sports coaches, Big Brothers, foster parents, members of the Masonic Lodge, and/or Kinsmen.

I spoke with Rob Greve, association president, about firefighters’ charitable nature and he said that it’s part of what they do, and that it galvanizes the association. He added: “For over 60 years firefighters in Sault Ste. Marie have been fundraising for local charities and individuals who have fallen through the social safety net. We assist residents with the costs of making their houses accessible after accidents, offer high school scholarships, and provide money towards accommodations following medical treatments.”

“We were probably best known for the annual firefighters’ boat draw, initiated around 1951 when Ido Donato donated a boat and motor … and over 50 years, we raised more than a quarter of a million dollars to help people in need in this community.” Unfortunately, in 2005 the boat draw was cancelled when new regulations came in.

Greve cited the amount of additional red tape they’d have to navigate as a problem, but the fact that the new regulations made it so that only registered charities could benefit from funds raised was the real issue.

“It didn’t make sense to us, we’d just essentially be redistributing money back and forth between registered charities and that wasn’t the intent of the charities account, so we sadly said bon voyage to the boat draw.”

Then, platoon chief Dave Lang stepped forward with the 24-Hour Hockey Marathon, now in its seventh year. It has evolved to include a Friday night pasta dinner, a Saturday morning pancake breakfast, and a bake sale.

In addition to the team registration fees, Superior Heights High School, with head coach Remi Gentes, raised the most additional donations, to again capture the Spiritus award, which they’ve won six out of the seven years. As the winners, they got to play with and against a celebrity team of former and current Greyhounds and NHLer’s, such as Michael Quesnele and Tyler Kennedy, thanks to this year’s event chair, Stuart Cole.

Greve also mentioned that by avoiding the draw format of fundraising, any member can bring forward requests for donations (to individuals or causes) at their monthly association meetings, and can have an answer very quickly without all the red tape.

“The fund has allowed us to stay true to our intent of helping vulnerable individuals in the community quickly and discretely.”

He estimates that about $100,000 has been dispersed over the past seven years from their fund.

I didn’t know all of this and thought I’d share the good news.

I’d also like to echo the sentiment of the anonymous donor Greve said dropped off four new skillets to the firefighters before the pancake breakfast, saying only, “Keep up the good work.”

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