Local firefighters Fill the Boot

Melanie Wong
Mackenzie Matarozzo (center in green) and her family celebrate a weekend of raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association last year at the main Vail fire station.
Special to the Daily |

About Fill the Boot

What: Local stations participate in the International Association of Firefighter’s Fill the Boot campaign. They’ll ask you to help them fill empty boots with cash to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The main Vail station will host a dunk tank.

Where: Local fire stations, or find firefighters around town, in front of markets and at select supporting restaurants.

When: Friday through Monday

More info:

EAGLE COUNTY — Across Eagle County this holiday weekend, you’ll find local firefighters from up and down the valley a little out of their element. Instead of at the station or in their engines, they’ll be standing on busy corners or in front of the supermarket holding empty boots.

The goal of the annual event, which starts today and goes through Monday, is to “fill the boot,” with proceeds from all over the county going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

If you have some change, some spare bills or even a check, then you can drop it into the boot, knowing it will go toward research for a cure, support for families with muscular dystrophy and sending kids with the disease to annual summer camps.

Josh Eaton, an engineer at Vail Fire and Emergency Services, said the Vail firefighters typically raise about $8,000 over the weekend, but that this year their goal is $12,000. Besides finding a firefighter, donations can also be made at The Red Lion, Bart & Yeti’s, Garfinkle’s and Vendetta’s, which will all “host” a boot. Or, stop by the main Vail fire station on Meadow Drive to donate a few bucks to dunk a firefighter.

Eaton said the event is a gratifying experience that allows emergency service workers to interact with and educate the public, support families with muscular dystrophy and contribute to a good cause.

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“I think as firefighters we like to help people — that’s just a common theme, and that’s why we’re in the profession. We come in during our off time and volunteer to do this, but when you see the impact it makes and meet the families it affects, it’s just a no-brainer.”

Meet Mackenzie

As part of the Fill the Boot campaign, the Vail Fire Department will also be hosting a Colorado family that lives with muscular dystrophy. Collbran resident Mackenzie Matarozzo, 14, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when she was 3 years old. At the time, her family knew nothing about the disease, and hospital staff connected them with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Over the years, the organization has not only provided information and advocacy for the family, but financial support to buy expensive equipment like wheelchairs. For the past four years, the MDA has sent Mackenzie to a week-long summer camp for kids with muscular dystrophy.

“The biggest thing is that she gets to be normal for a week,” said her mother, Melonie Matarozzo. “All the kids there have the same thing going on, but they get to do all the crazy stuff kids get to do at summer camp — play pranks on other cabins, go ziplining — all those things parents can’t give their kids at home.”

The MDA helped the family so much that Mackenzie became an ambassador for the association, participating in various fundraisers, including Fill the Boot.

Every Labor Day week, the family makes the rounds around Colorado, visiting various fire stations as they kick off their fundraisers. She’s been visiting the Vail Fire Department since she was 4 or 5.

“Mackenzie’s family has been coming out for so long that they’re basically family now,” Eaton said. “We cook dinner for them and hang out with the family all night.”

Melonie Matarozzo said the visits are a great way to give the firefighters some personal experience with the cause they’re raising money for. And, it’s a very fun weekend for the family.

“Basically she’s grown up with the Vail fire guys. It’s a fun weekend for us. She gets to go and is treated like royalty. She’ll get to ride up in the bucket truck and we have dinner with them and their families, who are often involved. Labor Day weekend has become all about being up there.”

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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