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Source:  Kokomo Tribune

Firefighter union president, city spar over $13,000 decline in Fill the Boot funding

By George Myers
    
KOKOMO - A prominent Kokomo firefighter claimed Thursday that a new restriction placed on this year’s Fill the Boot fundraiser cost the annual campaign thousands of dollars, a notion strongly disputed by city officials.

Kokomo Professional Firefighters Local 396 President Chris Frazier said firefighters this year raised $8,151 during the three-day campaign, a significant drop-off from the roughly $22,000 collected last year for local families affected by muscular dystrophy.

Frazier blamed the reduction on a new city restriction that prohibits firefighters from standing in roadways to collect money. Mostly, firefighters collected money this year while standing on sidewalks near or in front of city fire stations.

City officials have defended the decision as a necessary precaution focused on firefighter safety, a view they backed up by pointing to a USA Today report in October 2015 that cited other U.S. cities and counties that have stopped firefighters from collecting donations at busy intersections due to safety concerns.

Additionally, Kokomo Deputy Mayor David Tharp argued in an interview that the fundraising total was instead affected by the campaign’s delay, not the roadway restriction. Usually, firefighters hold Fill the Boot around Labor Day.

This year, it was held from Oct. 26 to 28.

“I think that the notion that somehow the safety policy affects the fundraising is disingenuous,” said Tharp. “The biggest distinguishing factor between this Fill the Boot campaign and every other Fill the Boot campaign is actually the time of year in which they did it.

“I do think that national exposure and the understanding that Fill the Boot happens over Labor Day weekend, that’s part of what people expect for this fundraiser. So when you do it two months after the fact, of course there are going to be changes.”

Firefighters first publicly expressed frustration about the restriction at a Sept. 26 Common Council meeting, saying at the time that it would limit their fundraising ability.

Now, Frazier says those concerns, which were espoused by Muscular Dystrophy Association officials at the meeting, have been validated. Each year, the Fill the Boot campaign raises money in partnership with the MDA.

Specifically, MDA Divisional Director Kate Shea said on Sept. 26 that the change could eliminate roughly two-thirds of anticipated fundraising.

“If you’re on the sidewalk and people can’t really see you and you’re not out in the road, they don’t really notice that you’re there,” added Frazier.

“The other thing was, if somebody was in a lane over from us, we couldn’t walk out and get money from them.”

Frazier also claimed the setup led to new and unexpected security concerns  related directly to people trying to exit their vehicles to donate money.

“We had some issues with people trying to get out of their cars in the middle of the road and walk over to us to give us money…It almost became more dangerous,” he said.

“It didn’t work very well, because it’s hard to stand on the sidewalk on the passenger’s side of somebody’s vehicle and actually collect money,” Frazier added later.

Tharp, however, continued to criticize Frazier specifically for not holding Fill the Boot during the usual timeline, saying it eliminated one of the event’s “unifying elements.”

“Had they not fought [Kokomo Fire Chief Nick Glover’s] recommendations and had they actually listened to the fire chief and done Fill the Boot during the normal MDA timeline and utilized the other locations that [Glover] recommended, such as standing in front of stores, doing a community event and working in community areas, along with roadside fundraising, I think they could have possibly had more success,” he said.

Notably, though, Frazier said local firefighters, who were widely frustrated by this year’s fundraising total, will continue to fight the restriction.

The union president also said firefighters were approached by residents throughout the community who were upset about the change, calling the widespread frustration a “general theme” of this year’s campaign.

“We all had the same feeling,” he said. “People collecting, our firefighters, they all kind of had the same feeling that this, you could tell it didn’t work. You could tell it was a bad way to do it. It was not productive to do it that way like we normally are.”

Tharp, however, said the city will continue to place an emphasis on firefighter safety.

“We are committed to making sure that firefighters on duty in the city of Kokomo do their job in the safest manner possible,” he said.

“When it comes to Fill the Boot, since they are on duty, that is a liability that we take very seriously, and we think they should do that activity from the sidewalks and from in front of stores and other community events.”

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.




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