Ex-Clark County firefighter seeks cause of mystery disease

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.

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