Family enjoys tour and dinner with a side of fire trucks

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Mark Russell "rests" on an ambulance gurney at Bluffton Township Fire District during a family tour and dinner. With Russell are his daughter, Grayson, in the white shirt, and her cousins, from left, Luke Wells (partially hidden) Victoria Russell, Nichola

Firefighters put their lives at risk daily for people they don't even know. They often go above and beyond the call of duty to help others, even in non-life-threatening situations.

Many firefighters with the Bluffton Township Fire District even donate their own time and money to hang out with members of the community.

BTFD public education officer Capt. Lee Levesque said charitable organizations have asked the fire district for years if they had anything to donate to help raise money for their various causes. For most of those years, the firefighters could not think of anything people would pay for as it relates to the fire service.

Somewhere along the line, Levesque said, someone suggested offering dinners with firefighters as a way to help charities raise money. So, for more than five years, BTFD has offered this service to be auctioned for charities.

Winning bidders receive a tour of a Bluffton fire station. They get to climb aboard a fire truck and watch live demonstrations. Then they sit down for a meal with the firefighters.

"It's really an excellent opportunity for families and the children to get up close and see what's happening in the firehouses," Moss Creek resident Carolyn McClurg said.

McClurg purchased one of these charity dinners at an auction and took her family to BTFD headquarters in August 2018.

McClurg said the adults, as well as her five grandchildren between the ages of 4 and 11, had a wonderful evening with Battalion Chief Derek Church and the shift three firefighters.

"All the firefighters did a phenomenal job," McClurg said. "The kids were just fascinated." One of McClurg's grandsons even said he might want to be a firefighter one day.

The Bluffton firefighters chip in to purchase the ingredients, then prepare a meal for their guests. They do this about five times a year, usually for about eight guests at a time. These dinners have benefited several local charities, including the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton, the Lowcountry Rockin' the Pink breast cancer walk, and the Moss Creek Marines group.

Levesque said the average winning bid for a dinner with the firefighters is about $1,000. He said the highest he has heard of someone paying was $5,250.

Levesque said hosting these events is not completely selfless for the firefighters. For one, he joked, firefighters like to brag about what they do.

"I honestly believe that we firefighters get more out of these gatherings than either the participants or the charity (that the experience) was auctioned for," Levesque said. "As firefighters, we're typically only called upon on people's worst days. It's a great gift to us to see folks not having a bad day."

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.

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