A higher calling: Denali climbers raising money for charity

04/07/2014 3:56 PM

04/07/2014 3:57 PM

Fort Worth firefighters training to climb North America’s highest peak this summer are also setting their sights on a higher goal: raising money for a charity to help burn patients and their families.

In February, the Star-Telegram told you about five firefighters — Kasey Gandy, Matt Magoffin, Clint Brewer, Jerry Bays and Daniel Ory — preparing to climb Mount Denali in Alaska.

Four had already scaled two of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent. Now a sixth firefighter, Lt. Dusty Sides, has decided to join the group on its Alaska climb.

Since the article was published, Gandy said, the group has been interviewed by other news outlets.

“We weren’t expecting all the media attention,” he said. “We decided, let’s try to use this publicity for something good. We’re super passionate about it but if we can help someone else along the way, that’s kind of icing on the cake for us.”

Sides recommended Sons of the Flag, a nonprofit that helps the military, fire responders and civilian burn survivors, and the group didn’t take long to agree.

The group’s founder, Ryan Parrot, was a Navy SEAL serving in Afghanistan when he and other team members were burned in a bomb explosion.

“Fortunately his burns were not severe, but burns are such an intensively painful injury that the experience really stuck with him,” said Mary Meier, director of development for the charity.

After he left the service, Parrot went to Dallas and began connecting with other veterans in the area, including retired. Capt. Sam Brown, who was severely burned in combat in Afghanistan.

“Ryan was talking to Sam about how he was being medically treated, where he was being treated, what was the prognosis for him, were they ever going to be able to make Sam look like he did before the burns.” Meier said. “Sam was basically, ‘This is kind of as good as it gets.’ ”

Meier said advances in the treatment for burns have been slow.

“There have been very little advances in the field of burn treatments since the Vietnam War,” she said. “Ryan was very discouraged by that.”

After contacting hospital burn units, Parrot decided to form Sons of the Flags. The organization works with burn units at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

The group is dedicated to supporting pioneering research and funding medical fellowships to improve burn treatment. Members also help burn survivors and their families.

“When someone is burned, they are typically in the hospital for at least 90 days,” Meier said. “It’s one of the most expensive injuries that anyone can face because you’re in the hospital for such a long period of time initially.”

Meier said Sons of the Flag is networking with fire departments to reach out to families of burn survivors quickly, offering assistance in everything from bringing the family clothes at the hospital to helping with long-term housing and food and hospital parking expenses.

“There’s an amazing ripple effect when someone is burned that impacts everyone in their close circle,” Meier said.

Gandy said the firefighters’ joining with the charity seemed a “perfect fit.”

The firefighters are hoping to raise $10,000 for the group. A special online link has been set up to track the group’s fundraising efforts.

”It’s so close to our hearts,” Gandy said. “Every fireman sees someone who is burned or knows another fireman that’s been burned. Most of the time we get those people loaded up and we never find out what happens to them.”

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