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Firefighters throughout the Central Coast will be at key intersections the next few weekends asking passers-by to fill their boots with donations to help those living with muscular dystrophy.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and participating fire departments officially kicked off the 2017 MDA Fill the Boot campaign to raise money to support the organization's many programs Thursday morning.

Muscular dystrophy is a group of diseases that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. Abnormal genes interfere with the production of proteins needed to form healthy muscle. Some people who have the disease lose the ability to walk or may have trouble breathing or swallowing.

There is no cure for muscular dystrophy, but medications and therapy can help manage symptoms and slow the course of the disease.

Fire departments from Santa Maria, Lompoc, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Santa Barbara County, the city of Santa Barbara and Montecito are participating in this year’s fundraising drive.

To raise awareness for the fundraising campaign, the Santa Maria City Council declared Nov. 18 Fill the Boot for MDA Day in the city.

The Santa Maria Fire Department will be at the Broadway and Cook Street intersection from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ to the city of Santa Maria," said Nick La Monica, Santa Maria firefighter. "They have been truly generous in years past.”

Last year, Santa Maria firefighters raised $17,325.

“This year, we are hoping to beat that goal," La Monica said.

In 2016, the combined effort of firefighters in Santa Barbara County raised $48,600.

This year, county firefighters are well on their way to surpass last year’s totals. County and Guadalupe firefighters have already conducted their Fill the Boot events. On April 28, county firefighters raised $25,204 and on Nov. 12, Guadalupe raised $5,251.

Carrie Danny, MDA Central Coast area director, said she is very grateful for the support of the county’s firefighters.

“They are so incredibly busy and yet they take the time to volunteer for this event. It means so incredibly much to me,” she said Thursday morning.

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After the money goes into the boot, it is used to fund MDA Clinic Care centers, medical equipment to assist patients and MDA’s research to accelerate treatments and cures.

“At medical clinics, they can go and be seen in one day by physical therapy, respiratory therapy, speech therapy, it goes on and on and on … really get specialized care,” Danny said.

Tara Heckman, whose son Dane is living with muscular dystrophy, said the medical clinics are very helpful.

“The MDA clinic makes it so much easier for us. We can go to the clinic and get all of these appointments done at once,” she said.

Montecito Fire Department Battalion Chief Alan Widling knows how it feels to raise money for MDA and care for someone living with muscular dystrophy. His grandson, Anthony Diaz, has the disease.

“It’s an honor to be here on both sides of the fence,” Widling said. “It is difficult, but it warms the heart.”

The money raised during Fill the Boot events also funds MDA’s youth summer camp.

While Santa Maria firefighters will be out Saturday to raise money for the cause, the Lompoc Fire Department will hold their event Dec. 2, followed by Vandenberg Air Force Base Fire Department on Dec. 3. Santa Barbara city and Montecito fire departments events are Dec. 9.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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City Government Reporter