'Project Fire Buddies' helps families of sick children

A group of Chicago area firefighters and first responders have taken on an added mission to help children who are fighting terminal illnesses.

It started because firefighters would be sent to homes to fight fires, but then they realized so many in the community were dealing with even bigger problems.

It was a special day when the Tinley Park Fire Department and organization Project Fire Buddies were not putting out any fires, but spreading only love and compassion.

They arrived at the home of Melanie Danahy and her daughters Addison, Angelina and baby Theodora.

Theodora, who is 7-months-old, suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as gangliosidosis. It progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

"She has type one infantile which is the most severe and it gives her life expectancy of two years plus she just got diagnosed with cardiomyopathy," said Melanie. "So it's been very hard."


So, Project Fire Buddies put their boots on the ground to help. It's what they do, giving back to Chicago area families with critically ill children.

Project Fire Buddies arrived with a new crib, a check to help with expenses, and brand-new cellphones for the sisters to stay in touch.

"You know there's a lot going on with mom, going in and out of the hospital. With the baby, it's kind of hard to get to communicate with her, so it's really nice," said Addison.

Theodora is on oxygen and a feeding tube and requires 24/7 care, so Melanie stays home full time.

The family has fallen on hard times. Medical expenses are overwhelming and Melanie’s fiancé — Theodora's father — just recently passed away unexpectedly.


Project Fire Buddies started in 2019 and since that time they have helped more than 100 families and there are now 23 different chapters.

"We add chapters every week. It's spreading like wildfire and it's a great thing," said Kurt DeGroot.

They've enlisted the support of big name celebrities: The Rock, Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, Jack Black and more to help them spread good cheer.

For Melanie and her family, the much needed love and support couldn't come at a better time — and Project Fire Buddies is also bringing them renewed hope.

"I believe that just the awareness to get it out, because it's such a rare genetic disorder that many people don’t know about it," Melanie said.

"I hope that she gets to live past two years and I hope that she gets better and she doesn't have to have feeding tube or the oxygen," said Angelina.

Firefighters are often called heroes.  For Project Fire Buddies, it's not only about putting out fires but giving back to the communities they already serve — even when they least expect it.

"...it always feels good to do good," said DeGroot.