Rob Derksen has been a close friend of David Tobias since the two attended the Broome County Police Academy together more than 20 years ago. They’ve worked together ever since.
Tobias is “very laid back,” said Derksen, now a Cortland County sheriff’s captain. “He’s always laughing, finds humor in everything.”
That made it all the more devastating when Derksen and the rest of the sheriff’s office learned a few weeks ago that Tobias, now a sergeant, had to retire due to being diagnosed with what appears to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS, according to the Mayo Clinic, “is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.” It affects muscle control needed to eat, speak and breathe and has no cure and is eventually fatal.
To help support Tobias and his family, the County Police Association of Cortland along with the Cortlandville and Cincinnatus fire departments will host a chicken barbecue fundraiser at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cortlandville’s Route 13 fire station.
Tobias was a Cortlandville firefighter until a back injury he suffered seven years ago ended his ability to go out on calls in 2017, and is an honorary member of the Cincinnatus department, Cortlandville Fire Chief Gere Henry said.
Proceeds will help put on another barbecue fundraiser for Tobias in October in Cincinnatus, Derksen said.
All of the money raised from that event will then go to Tobias’s family.
“He’s a great guy,” Henry said. “He would do anything for anybody.”
Saturday’s event will work like other food-related support events, where people will drive up to the fire station and order their chicken from their car, he said. Volunteers will bring the chicken back.
In 2013, Tobias was injured while on the job in the sheriff’s office, Tobias said. He ended up having a herniated disk and bone spurs in his back. After surgery in 2017, he started to feel better again but a limp in his walk later sent him back to surgery.
In 2019, Tobias had a procedure on his back to treat the issue but hasn’t been able to work since.
Through multiple diagnoses, he learned that he may have ALS.
“It kind of took the wind right out of me,” Tobias said even though he was somewhat expecting it after reading on the symptoms of ALS.
Being an Army Reserves veteran, Tobias plans to go to a Veterans Affairs clinic in the near future to confirm the diagnosis.
Henry said that he’s feeling good about Saturday’s fundraiser, but worried that it may be one of many chicken barbecues happening this weekend, noting one being put on by the Homer Fire Department.
“I’m hoping it will just give him some money for the bills he has,” Henry said.
Derksen said he hopes the event will help show the unity between members of the sheriff’s office and other first responders.
“For us, we believe we’re a unit, part of a family,” he said. “We want him to know we have his back and we support him, no matter what happens.”