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‘Big Shoes': Firefighters Honor Legacy by Fighting Heart Disease

Food on the Stove, a nonprofit helping firefighters tackle heart disease, opened its first gym dedicated to a fallen firefighter.

Two years ago, Da'Von McRae took up his family's legacy and became a firefighter. He had big shoes to fill: In 2015, Da'Von's father, Lt. Kevin McRae,  died from a heart attack while responding to a blaze.

"My father was a good man, a good role model," Da'Von said at his graduation ceremony.

Since then, Lt. McRae has been remembered with dedications and "Lt. Kevin McRae Day," a day designated by the D.C. Council to honor the firefighter on his birthday, Nov. 22.

But Jonathan Tate, a D.C. firefighter and EMT himself, wants to honor his legacy by encouraging his fellow firefighters to focus on their heart health. Tate founded Food on the Stove, a nonprofit that educates firefighters about healthy eating and other ways to combat heart disease.

"We wanted to honor him but remind other firefighters that you have to be proactive about your health," Tate said.

Tate has firsthand knowledge of heart disease as well. His own father, the former deputy fire chief of D.C. Fire and EMS, died after battling heart disease and cancer

"Oftentimes we pay attention when someone dies in the line of duty in a fire-related death; we do a ton of training on it," said Tate, "but when Lt. McRae passed, I just didn't hear the conversation about, 'How do we combat heart disease?'"

Since its founding, Food on the Stove has gone from educating, to delivering turkey to firefighters on Thanksgiving, to building a $60,000 gym at Engine 6, the station where both McRaes have worked.

"It's a true honor; speaking on behalf of the whole McRae family, we're overwhelmed with thoughts that somebody could dedicate a gym to my dad," Da'Von McRae said.

Tate plans to expand his efforts to more firehouses, but says his biggest obstacle is funding.

"We plan on doing more, but that takes funding," Tate said. "We need the help of community; we need help from firefighters."

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