Twenty-two first-responder teams from the state’s Berkshires region gathered at the music venue Tanglewood to participate in a fun tug-of-war event to benefit the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), a drug discovery center focused exclusively on the progressive neurodegenerative disease.
The winning tug-of-war team will compete next month at the Firefighter Combat Challenge, which seeks to encourage firefighter fitness. Each match at the Lenox event consisted of the best of three pulls. Teams included up to 10 members each.
In addition to the friendly competition, the free Lenox event featured food trucks, libations, live music, and games. A prize was awarded to the team that received the most donations. The $50,000 raised overall was double the original goal.
“It shows you how special the Berkshires are,”state Rep. Smitty Pignatelli said in a press release. “When people hit a rough patch, we all come together for the greater good.”
A fundraising and awareness effort, Arrest and Extinguish ALS was started by two Massachusetts first responders — Jeffery Roosa, the town of Lee’s chief of police, and Michael Polidoro, former deputy chief of the Pittsfield fire department. After they were diagnosed with ALS, colleagues and area communities rallied around the men.
Now, the two are hoping to turn that support into a larger, nationwide drive. Roosa and Polidoro are challenging all first responders — mainly police officers and firefighters — to participate by hosting their own ALS Arrest and Extinguish fundraisers.
“This event was amazing and really surpassed all expectations,” said Terri Handler, ALS TDI’s development director. “After seeing how successful this was, we’re hoping it will kick off a huge Arrest and Extinguish national campaign.”
Known as “Iron Mike,” Polidoro served Pittsfield for 28 years before retiring in 2016. During his tenure, he also responded to numerous disasters, including the aftermath of the 9/11 bombing in New York City and Hurricane Katrina. He also was a longtime member of the Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Response Program.
It was seven years ago when Polidoro first noticed ALS symptoms. While progression has been slow, he now walks with a cane, and has a brace on one leg. Determined to help others, he has established a Pittsfield ALS support group.
A police officer since 1996, Roosa was diagnosed in 2017, three years after the Lee Police Department participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. For 16 years, he served on a county special response team and competed in four SWAT competitions. In 2009, he ran his first marathon.
Three years ago, Roosa noticed that his running time had slowed, and while biking, his leg muscles cramped and twitched. Now, he considers himself fortunate to be embraced by a supportive community.