The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Airdrie’s sixth annual firefighter Rooftop Campout for Muscular Dystrophy represents so much more than raising awareness and funds for Muscular Dystrophy Canada (MDC).

This campout, which began in Edmonton in 2006, represents the relationship between Canadian firefighters and MDC — a relationship that started 65 years ago when the organization was created.

Doing the campout during one of Calgary’s coldest months was not a fault in planning, either.
Rob Dawson, one of Airdrie’s participating firefighters, says that MDC is definitely the associations “charity of choice.”

“That's part of the reason that we do it in February, so we are making it a little more uncomfortable for us,” explains Dawson. “So that we can get an idea — even a slim fraction — of what it's like to live with Muscular Dystrophy.”

Airdrie Firefighters Rooftop Campout from MRU Journalism on Vimeo.

Back in 1954, it all began with a family in Ontario who decided to reach out to their local fire department and see if they could help them raise money.

“That's where the whole connection started,” says Annalies VanderLaan, who has worked with Muscular Dystrophy Canada for almost five years and serves as a firefighter liaison.

“Since then, firefighters have been beside us along the journey the whole way.”

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular Dystrophy Canada covers 160 different neuromuscular diseases, so while Muscular Dystrophy itself is included, it makes up quite a small proportion of people with these disorders.

To make things easier to understand, all 160 diseases share three characteristics according to VanderLaan.

“[1.] They all have some sort of muscular component, [2.] they are all progressive and degenerative, and [3.] they’re all genetic,” she explains.

How have the firefighters helped in the past?

With the federal government providing less than 1% of MDC’s funding, the organization relies heavily on donor dollars.

VanderLaan says that Canadian firefighters are MDC’s number one donor source. Firefighters alone raise over $3 million annually, according to the MDC website.

“They provide over 30% of our revenue nationally, so that's pretty instrumental in all of our programs and all of our initiatives in our organization,” states VanderLaan.

IMG 6367Collecting the first donation towards muscular dystrophy on Feb. 20, where all proceeds go to Muscular Dystrophy Canada. Photo by Kiah Lucero

How does the campout contribute?

The members of the Airdrie Professional Firefighters Association (APFA) who are camping out on top of the Toad ‘n’ Turtle Pubhouse and Grill represent just a handful of the firefighters throughout Alberta and Western Canada that will campout in support of MDC.

“They are our largest funding source in Alberta for the firefighter initiatives,” says VanderLaan.

Ten campouts will be hosted throughout Alberta, as well as some in Manitoba and the Yukon.

During the four days, the campers were answering questions and collecting donations from the public.

“[MDC is] what we do most of our charitable events around, and [the campout] is our big one for the year,” states Dawson.

 MG 6375 copyRob Dawson participated in the three-day Rooftop Campout for muscular dystrophy on Feb. 20. Photo by Kiah Lucero

Why in the winter?

VanderLaan says that the conditions make for both an “awkward [and] uncomfortable” experience” — and that’s exactly how it should should be.

The temperatures during the time they spent on the roof averaged to -5 C, with night time lows dropping to minus -19 C.

“It’s supposed to be, because it's a challenge,” says VanderLaan. “And it’s a whole lot easier than having a diagnosis like [Muscular Dystrophy] and having to live everyday like that.”