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Lincoln firefighters participate in 'Fill the Boot' campaign

By: Cody Kitaura, News Messenger Correspondent
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When three Placer County firefighters were seriously burned in a June blaze near the Lincoln airport, the UC Davis Regional Burn Center in Sacramento was preparing for them before they were even on their way to a hospital. Corey Leighty, a Lincoln firefighter who has worked with the burn center for more than 15 years, said he immediately called the burn center when he heard about the firefighters' injuries. “My first thought was the burn center,” Leighty said, adding that its availability gives firefighters an “easy feeling in the back of your mind.” Firefighters in Lincoln are again preparing for their annual “fill the boot” fundraiser to collect donations for the nonprofit Firefighters Burn Institute that funds burn-recovery programs in Northern California – such as the UC-Davis Regional Burn Center. Placer County firefighters held their fundraiser last weekend. Lincoln firefighters will collect donations from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 21 and 22 at the intersections of Joiner Parkway and Ferrari Ranch Road, and Joiner Parkway and Sterling Parkway. In the early 1990s, many fire departments in Northern California began holding their own satellite boot drives for residents who couldn't make it to the main fundraiser in Citrus Heights. The Lincoln Fire Department, which has 21 paid firefighters and six volunteers, was one of the earliest to hold a satellite boot drive. It’s part of a satellite fundraiser with Placer County and Auburn firefighters that last year raised more than $53,000, more than any other satellite fundraiser and the first to break $50,000, according to Leighty. But this year, Leighty, who organizes the Lincoln fundraiser, predicts a much lower total as a result of the tightening economy. “Hopefully I can get somewhere around $30,000,” Leighty said. “If I come out (near last year’s level) or come out above, I'm going to be ecstatic.” Leighty also isn't betting on the Lincoln and Placer County fundraiser coming out on top again. Leighty said he told the other organizers, “I hope you beat us because it means more money for the institute.” Firefighters Burn Institute Executive Director Patty Neifer is more optimistic because most of the money from the fundraiser is built from many small donations. “It feels good to put a couple dollars in the boot,” Neifer said. “Our donations aren’t on the high end.” The Firefighters Burn Institute funds support groups, cruises, children's camps and last year opened what Neifer said is the first burn-survivor camp in the country for preschoolers. A total of $2 million has been pledged by the Firefighters Burn Institute to the new burn center currently being constructed at UC Davis Medical Center. The institute hopes to pay off the first million with this year's drive, according to Neifer. The “fill the boot” fundraisers make up about half of the institute’s total budget, Neifer said. The burn center will be part of a new $425-million Emergency Services Pavilion at UC Davis Medical Center. The three-story building, which will open early next year, will contain a 7,800-square-foot burn center on the second floor. As the population of Northern California has grown, the Regional Burn Center needed more room. It currently occupies the same space it did in 1974, according to www.ffburn.org, and some of the center’s services are located on separate floors or in separate buildings. Construction on the new building is about 85-percent complete, but before it can accept patients, it must undergo a rigorous setup and certification process. Officials say they have been conservative in setting a date for an opening to ensure everything will be ready on time. “We've been cautious all along,” said Mike Boyd, executive director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction for the UC Davis Health System. “We want to be very comfortable that when we set that opening date, we'll be able to meet that.” While many construction projects in the UC system have been shelved due to California's current fiscal crisis, the new Emergency Services Pavilion will be completed on time, using funds from the hospital if necessary, Boyd said. He said the $425-million price tag for the project includes $100 million from the state – only $70 million of which has been paid. Requests for the remaining $30 million have been denied by the state, Boyd said. Halting construction on the project now, Boyd added, would cost the system more money than it would save because of additional expenses due to restarting construction. “The Pavilion is our highest priority,” Boyd said. Donations to the Firefighters Burn Institute can also be made directly through its Web site at http://www.ffburn.org or by calling 739-8525. Lincoln fire stations also accept donations before/after the boot drive