union president, city spar over $13,000 decline in Fill the Boot funding
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.
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
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.
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
publicly expressed frustration about the restriction at a Sept. 26
Common Council meeting, saying at the time that it would limit their
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.
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
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
“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
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
“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.”
Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at
email@example.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.