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Local firefighter lends a hand with MDA youth camp

About two hours after Pahrump Firefighter/Paramedic Michael McFate returned home from a three-day campout, he almost felt as if he needed a vacation just to recover from his experience.

McFate, who is observing his one-year anniversary with Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue Services, recently attended the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Summer Camp in California as a volunteer camp counselor.

The MDA program offers a wide range of activities designed for young people who have limited mobility or use wheelchairs.

Additionally, MDA camp programs, although structured, are conducted in a relaxed atmosphere giving the young campers an opportunity to develop lifelong friendships, share interests and build self-confidence.

McFate said activities range from outdoor sports such as swimming, baseball and horseback riding to less physically demanding programs like arts and crafts and talent shows.

Though he said he was thoroughly exhausted after the program, he suggested it was a true “labor of love.”

“They tell me they look forward to this as much as Christmas. It’s a week-long camp just outside of Hemet where we have access to the Ronald McDonald’s Camp, which is an MDA-compliant disability camp. Each camper is accompanied for the week by a volunteer counselor who provides the care, close supervision and attention that children with neuromuscular diseases need, including dressing, bathing, assisting with activities,” he said.

The MDA represents more than 600 families living in Nevada.

Youngsters ages 6 to 18, who are registered with MDA, are eligible to apply to attend the summer camp, where all camp costs are covered by MDA.

McFate said acceptance to the camp is contingent upon the evaluation of a child’s application by MDA staff and medical advisers.

He noted that the six-year-old youngster he was assigned to accompany was a first time participant, as was he.

“MDA covers those who are affected by any of the more than 40 neuromuscular diseases in their summer camp program. There’s kids with very mild forms to very aggressive forms where they are in their chair and they need at least two to three counselors for that one child. I think it’s awesome because the camp allows those kids to enjoy every part of the camp,” he said.

The firefighter also noted that he jumped at the opportunity to become an MDA Camp counselor this summer.

“Being a firefighter/paramedic is not just a 24-hour-a-day, 10-day-a-month job. You also take pride in the community that you serve. It’s the responsibility of really making a sacrifice and effort to give back to the community on your own time because I have that free time to give. That’s how I was raised. Just doing more for the people than for myself,” he said.

McFate made sure to mention how the local MDA Summer Camp program is able to continue providing services in the community.

The annual Boot Drive had local firefighters hitting the streets for three days in May.

“We did very well with this year’s MDA Boot Drive. We raised over $10,798 dollars and it was great to see the outpouring of the community because we could not have done this without them. It’s not just the MDA camp, but all of the other services for the kids, whether it’s medical devices, services at the MDA clinic or the cost associated with research and studies. I’m already looking forward to next year,” he said.

The medical needs and safety of the campers is the top priority for MDA camp counselors.

All camps are staffed by medical teams that can include physicians, nurses, and respiratory or physical therapists.

During the camp week, the medical team dispenses medications and takes care of injured or ill campers.

McFate noted that his background and those of his colleagues was a big plus during the three-day adventure.

“There were a lot of firefighters from southern Nevada there, including Boulder City, Las Vegas and Clark County. We were very well-rounded and represented as far as the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). A lot of us are also paramedics, including myself, and it gives that extra comfort to the staff, the kids and the parents as well. This camp really changes their lives and gives them the motivation, the drive and the opportunity to do more. The MDA Summer Camp does wonders for these kids and they really deserve it,” he said.

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