WESTERLY — Rip Torn, playing Patches O'Houlihan in the movie "Dodgeball," has long urged fans to "Remember the 5 D's of dodgeball; dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge." Firefighters in Westerly are adding one more to the conversation: donate.
Volunteers with the town's four fire departments — Westerly, Watch Hill, Misquamicut and Dunn's Corners — will come together on Oct. 16 to test their dodgeball skills during the first charity Firefighter Dodgeball Tournament. The competitors will be donned head-to-toe in full firefighting gear.
The tournament, hosted by the Dunn's Corners Fire Department, is part of an expanded effort to raise money for the American Lung Association as part of the annual Fight for Air Climb. The Rhode Island event, one of 40 Fight for Air Climbs across the U.S., is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the association and draws hundreds of participants to the Omni Providence Hotel each March.
"We wanted to do something to really expand what we do and make it a year-round effort," said Dunn's Corners Fire Capt. Jeffrey Thomas, who will be making his eighth trip up the 348 steps in 2020. In addition to participating in the event and collecting online donations, local firefighters held a June car wash that helped raise $700 and will hold a boot drive in January.
All proceeds go to the American Lung Association to support research and treatment of lung-related diseases. The Dunn's Corners Fire Department has raised more than $30,000 for the association in the past decade, including over $5,000 in 2019.
Daniel Bowler, director of development for the Rhode Island American Lung Association, said Dunn's Corners has been the top fundraiser for several years in a row.
“The Fight for Air Climb is supposed to illustrate how people with lung disease feel on a daily basis, as they often have to struggle to breath just like someone who might race up a whole lot of stairs,” Bowler said. “The Dunn’s Corner Fire Department has taken this to the next level by organizing the dodgeball tournament. It’s not only a great way to extend the good they are doing and involve the community, but it’s a brilliant demonstration of how the ability to breath clean air impacts the mission of a firefighter.”
The game will be played with traditional schoolyard rules, but players are not eliminated by being hit. Rather, all competitors will be wearing an air pack and when hit, will need to run a lap. A player is eliminated when he or she runs out of air. Thomas said envisions the tournament becoming an annual competition that draws a crowd to cheer on the participants.
The tournament is open to the public free of charge, though donations are welcomed and encouraged. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at Westerly Middle School.
Those unable to attend or who would prefer to donate online may do so at https://action.lung.org/site/TR/Climb/ALANE_Northeast?team_id=152402&pg=team&fr_id=18720&fbclid=IwAR0cbIvEYsOzzK28h_MQhOIpvCUFCrFd-3303w9khFg2waY1k6tvtPk8KBA.
"With this program, we were hoping to do something fun and different that the public could come enjoy," Thomas said.