By Mike Kennedy
On a Saturday morning a few months ago I walked into a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and near the door sat two EMTs from Columbus Fire and Rescue Department. A gray fold-out table sat in front of them and they each had a portable chair, probably most often used to sit in while lounging around with friends or taking in a school sporting event. On the table was a fireman’s boot. Their task that day, and reason for sitting in the hot Georgia heat, was pretty simple: fill the boot. I dropped a few dollars in the boot, thanked the two responders for selflessly serving our community, got in the car and drove home excited that the college football was finally back and the first games would be starting in a few hours. While I had thanked the two EMTs for their service to the community, a noble duty in itself, admittedly I didn’t think much at all about the greater service they were performing for those with needs much greater than mine, and certainly did not think at all about the fact that they were volunteering to do it. In planning this issue of At the Ready, I was asked to do a lot of thinking about what occurred at Piggly Wiggly that day and report back; tell the rest of the story, as the late Paul Harvey used to say. What I discovered is a fascinating tale of generosity that dates back some 60 years.
What does all this have to do with George Graney? In 1952, Mr. Graney was on-duty at Fire Engine Company 1 in South Boston when a man; Charles Crowley, showed up at the station asking for help. As Mr. Graney described it in a Boston Globe article from 1999 , he thought the man needed help with his car. Mr. Crowley explained that he needed money help to care for his two sons, both of whom were suffering from Muscular Dystrophy, a terrible disease that causes victim’s voluntary muscles to weaken, leaving them wheelchair bound, and often killing them before the age of 25. It is difficult to imagine the pain and desperation Mr. Crowley was feeling that day in 1952, but to Mr. Graney it was obvious. So obvious in fact that Mr. Graney, also president of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 718, organized a group of twenty fellow firemen and began a door-to-door campaign that raised $5,000.00 for Mr. Crowley to care for his sons, an action that would make the normal man feel pretty satisfied with himself. Mr. Graney was not an ordinary man, however. He continued his fund-raising efforts and expanded them city-wide.
In 1954, Mr. Graney raised a motion at the IAFF convention for the group to make the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) its charity of choice. The motion won unanimous approval. In the 61 years since then, the IAFF has raised more than $531 million to help MDA fight the terrible effects of muscular dystrophy and make the lives of sufferers and their families a little bit better. The IAFF is the largest sponsor of MDA and raises funds through the Fill the Boot campaign, charity sporting events, and other events. IAFF members also spend time with the children suffering from this horrible disease at MDA summer camps. This is the Legacy of George Graney and every firefighter and medic since who has stood in a store front and asked people to Fill the Boot.
The next time you walk into your local store and a firefighter or medic asks you to help Fill the Boot, please do it. You don’t have to wait till then to do it though. You can contribute to the Fill the Boot campaign by clicking here and making your most generous contribution.
There is much more to know about George Graney. He was a South Boston Fireman for more than 30 years and retired in 1969. He also founded a Little League team that he coached out of the firehouse, and tutored students at South Boston High School during a busing crisis in the 1970s. He worked thousands of fires during his career and one of the biggest was the fire in 1942 at the Cocoanut Grove Night Club. In that fire, 492 people lost their lives. The Boston Fire Historical Society has fascinating information about this fire on their website here.