Ex-Clark County firefighter seeks cause of mystery disease

Updated October 28, 2018 - 4:53 pm

Whether dangling off buildings on the Strip or performing swift-water rescues, former Clark County Fire Capt. Dennis Snider had a passion for rescuing people.

“He physically was a stud, led by example (and) treated everybody he was around well,” Fire Capt. Sal Solis said of his friend.

A neuromuscular disease forced Snider into early retirement more than 10 years ago, and the cause of the illness remains a mystery. Snider originally was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that progressively inhibits muscle movement, but doctors recently told him his ailment could be Lou Gehrig’s disease or genetically unique.

In an effort to help pay for the expensive blood tests needed to properly diagnose Snider’s disease, former and current firefighters raised more than $10,000 at a golf tournament and restaurant fundraiser at Bear’s Best Las Vegas golf course and Rhythm Kitchen.

Snider’s wife of 27 years, Julie, acknowledged that it has been difficult seeing her husband suffer.

“He has a good head on his shoulders; I don’t know how many people would quite be able to go on as long with what he has,” she said.

Snider joined the department in 1981 and was one of the founding members of Nevada Task Force One in 1991.

In 1999 he helped found the county’s Heavy Rescue program, which specializes in rescuing people at high altitudes, underneath collapsed structures and in other high-risk situations.

Deputy Fire Chief John Steinbeck said one of Snider’s most memorable feats was rescuing three window washers who’d become stuck on the side of The Venetian in the late 1990s.

“He saved a lot of lives,” Steinbeck said.

Snider mostly operated out numerous stations in the Southwest region of the valley before starting the later half of his career at Clark County Fire Station 76 in Laughlin in 1996; he commuted from his cabin near Kingman, Arizona, where he and his wife still live. Laughlin is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas and about 35 miles west of Kingman.

His father Butch Snider originally joined the fire department in 1958, where he rose to the rank of battalion chief.

He teamed up with fellow fighterfighter Jim Grigsby to form the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Southern Nevada Fill the Boot campaign in the 1960s — an offshoot of the national campaign formed in 1954 in which firefighters raise money for the organization by collecting money in their boots, according to MDA Nevada Executive Director Anne Brown.

Ironically, Snider and Grigsby were diagnosed with and died from neuromuscular diseases years later.

Dennis Snider also said that his grandmother also suffered from a neuromuscular disease that could be intrinsic to their genetic history.

“It could be something that’s just unique to my family,” Snider said.

By 2014, the disease had forced Snider to use a wheelchair, as he lost motor function in his arms and legs.

“It just gets harder all the time now; it’s getting to where I can’t even brush my teeth anymore,” he said.

Doctors told him he had about 20 years left to live after his first diagnosis. Snider said he has remained active to the best of his ability.

He still travels and goes deer hunting, with the assistance of friends and family members.

Snider hopes that one day there will be a cure for whatever he has.

“I loved being a fireman and saving people, just loved it,” he said of his career. Now, he added, “I’m trying to hang in there.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Winter storm blankets west side of Las Vegas Valley
On Wednesday evening through early Thursday a winter storm dumped more than 7 1/2 inches of snow on some parts of the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas snow day for children
Las Vegas kids play in the snow that fell on Feb. 21, 2019. (Belinda Englman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow closes Red Rock Canyon, residents enjoy rare snowfall
The greater Las Vegas area was hit with snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2019. This video shows the areas surrounding Red Rock Canyon and the Summerlin community. Video by: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas kids attend school in the snow
Las Vegas children attend school during a rare snowstorm on Feb. 21, 2019. Staton Elementary School and other CCSD schools remained open. (Glenn Cook/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People enjoying the snow in Summerlin
Fox Hill Park in Summerlin was busy Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019, with people enjoying the rare snow that fell overnight. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP advises motorists to take caution during Las Vegas snowstorm
NHP advised motorists to take caution during the snowstorm in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Timelapse of snow at Red Rock Canyon
More than 7 inches of snow fell in the western areas of the Las Vegas Valley, including Red Rock Canyon, on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow falls at Fremont Street Experince in Las Vegas
Snow falls at the Fremont Street Experience early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 in Las Vegas. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in Summerlin
Snow in Summerlin on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Anastasia Hendrix/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Snow At Red Rock Casino
Early morning snow in Summerlin on Thursday, feb. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Northwest Las Vegas sees heavy snow fall
Drivers on the 215 Beltway in northwest Las Vegas faced heavy snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow at Red Rock Casino and Resort.
Snow continues to fall Thursday morning in Summerlin. Heaviest snow west of 215.
Snow soccer in Las Vegas -VIDEO
Players enjoy a game of soccer during a snowstorm in the Anthem area east of Las Vegas on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow falls Wednesday evening in Las Vegas
Heavy snow began falling Wednesday evening in the southwestern part of the Las Vegas valley. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Snow falls on the Las Vegas Strip
Snow falls outside the T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip as the Golden Knights play the Boston Bruins. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow near Deer Springs and Buffalo
Snow near Deer Springs Way and Buffalo Drive in the northwest Las Vegas Valley on Feb. 20, 2019.(Cassie Soto/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in Las Vegas at Red Rock Casino Resort
A winter storm brings snow to Red Rock Casino Resort in Summerlin on Feb. 20, 2019. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
February 20 snow in Centennial Hills (Part 2)
Snowstorm in the far northwest valley. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
February 20 snow in Centennial Hills
Snowstorm in the far northwest valley. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NDOT prepares for snow and ice from winter storm
The Nevada Department of Transportation gears up to keep roads open when snow and ice hit the Las Vegas valley.
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working cats at St. John the Baptist Church
Parish councilmember John Koutsulis talks about the two cats St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church have adopted as part of a working cats program.
Lee Canyon snow makes skiers smile
Skiers and snow boarders took advantage of the Presidents Day holiday and the recent snowfall at Lee Canyon, outside of Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston gets fresh blanket of snow
A winter storm drops nearly four inches of fresh snow on Sunday, February 17, 2019 at Mount Charleston outside Las Vegas. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in the Las Vegas Valley
Snow accumulated in the Las Vegas Valley for the first time in more than a decade, with snow falling mostly in the western, northwestern and southern areas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review Journal) @bizutesfaye
Snow at US 95 and Lee Canyon Road
Passers-by pulled off Lee Canyon Road northwest of Las Vegas Monday to play in the fresh snow. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Road truck on an empty I-15
Snow and ice contributed to the closure of Interstate 15 near Primm. Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal
I-15 traffic diverted at St. Rose Parkway
The Nevada Highway Patrol has closed Interstate 15 in both directions between south Las Vegas and the California state line due to icy road conditions, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ice on roadway shuts down I-15 south of Las Vegas
An overnight snowstorm left an icy roadway, causing the Nevada Highway Patrol to shut down Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas to the California state line. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 closed at St. Rose Parkway
Ice on Interstate 15 caused the Nevada Highway Patrol to close the highway from St. Rose Parkway in south Las Vegas to the California state line on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing