Community Firefighter with ALS Fights for A Cure

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Dick, during the ALS awareness video shoot at the firehouse.

“In some ways it’s a death sentence,” Dick begins. “But there are many ways to fight ALS. Look around me, there’s my g-tube, ventilator, diaphragmatic pacer… the list goes on.”

Dick knows these interventions aren’t for everyone, but it’s his mission to make sure that everyone who is living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) knows what’s available to them.

Since being diagnosed with ALS in September 2011, Dick’s attitude has been largely positive thanks to his innate sense of humor. He is grounded in his love for family, including Kris, his wife of thirty-one years, and their four children and two grandchildren.

This family man has always found time to give back to his community—as a volunteer firefighter and foster parent—but these days, he’s focused on one thing: Raising awareness (and funds) to fight ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Finding a Second Career at the Firehouse

When Dick was 46 years old, he received a flyer from the local fire department requesting volunteers. A mechanical engineer by degree, Dick was looking for a way to give back to his community and thought to himself: “That sounds interesting.”

With support from his wife and children, Dick started training to become a firefighter. “I didn’t think they’d want a 46 year old, but it turns out, they did!” Dick explains. Dick worked extremely hard to master his skills, earning himself the title of Lieutenant in six years.

Advocate for ALS Awareness

A few months after he received his new title, Dick was diagnosed with ALS. The fire department has rallied together to keep Dick involved since his diagnosis—and continues to fight with him for a cure. In May 2014, Dick worked with his firehouse buddies to film a video to raise awareness of ALS.

Dick’s goal is to reach one million views on his “Wheelchair Fire Engine” video—and he is well on his way with more than 23,000 views to date!

“I’ll get there,” Dick replies.

His sense of humor shines brightly in this four minute clip. “The idea came out of my screwy little head,” Dick laughs. He continues, “It was the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech introducing ALS to the world, and I needed to do something.”

Watch the video here:

The video resonates with many, in part, because it carries a very subtle message. Even with ALS, Dick is still having fun!

“I’m still the same smart ass I’ve always been,” he laughs. Four years into ALS, Dick remains a member of the volunteer fire department.

Last year, Dick’s neurologist asked if he was interested in sharing his story with second year medical students at Northwestern University. Dick jumped at the chance.

“This energizes me,” Dick explains.

Living Passionately with ALS

Since February, Dick has been dependent on mechanical ventilation and receives 24/7 nursing care at home. He is learning to live with the extra help.

“Everything I do requires a lot of planning,” he explains.

But even with the new equipment, Dick makes a point to be present for the important things. Later this week, he is attending a parent-teacher conference for his youngest son, and he frequently schedules his own medical appointments.

Most importantly, he is still there for his growing family. While his body doesn’t move the way it used to, Dick’s heart and head remain in peak condition.

Dick continues, “I can’t go to everything anymore, but I make an effort to go to the important things.”

Dick’s life is rich with blessings—a healthy mind, a beautiful, big family, and a strong community network. Even though life is different than Dick and his family planned, they are still supporting each other and their community, and they won’t stop until there’s a cure.

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