City officials, firefighters debate decision to keep
Fill the Boot out of roadways
Myers KOKOMO - Kokomo
firefighters and city officials began a public dispute this week over a
new restriction placed on the fire department’s annual Fill the Boot
fundraiser, a disagreement which has stalled this year's campaign.
Local firefighters and
Muscular Dystrophy Association representatives brought attention to the
controversy at a Kokomo Common Council meeting Monday, where they
expressed frustration at the city’s decision to prohibit firefighters
from standing in roadways to collect money.
City officials have
defended the decision as a necessary precaution focused on firefighter
But while the city has
given firefighters the OK to stand on sidewalks or in front of local
businesses, MDA representatives argue that moving away from the middle
of the street could eliminate two-thirds of anticipated
Overall, the campaign
raises on average $22,000 per year for 22 local families, according to
MDA Divisional Director Kate Shea.
limits our ability to really interact with the flow of traffic very
well, so when you’re on the sidewalk obviously you can’t really connect
with drivers,” said Shea, who referenced recent medical advancements
and credited Fill the Boot campaigns.
Shea noted that various
cities in Indiana have strict anti-street solicitation ordinances but
said no other cities in northern Indiana have moved MDA campaigns out
City officials, though,
argued that safety concerns associated with standing amongst heavy
traffic warranted the decision to move firefighters to the sidewalk.
“There have been a large
number of cities and counties and other communities around the country
that have made this exact same decision for the exact same reason,”
said Kokomo Deputy Mayor David Tharp. “Firefighter safety is one of our
top concerns, and standing in the middle of the street to collect
donations is an unsafe way to go about this.”
As Tharp noted, a
decision was made earlier this month by the Columbus, Ohio, fire
department to halt its Fill the Boot campaign after a firefighter was
hit by a car.
According to a USA Today
report in Oct. 2015, at least seven U.S. cities or counties by that
point had stopped firefighters from collecting donations at busy
intersections due to safety concerns. Tharp said concerns about
Kokomo’s campaign began after the report.
“We absolutely support
the fire department raising money for MDA,” continued Tharp. “We have
given them multiple other opportunities to do that, to do Fill the Boot
in other ways, same as they do in many other communities around the
“The difference is there
are a lot more examples of firefighters getting killed doing this and
firefighters getting hurt.”
Initially, the fire
department planned to hold this year’s Fill the Boot campaign from Aug.
24 to 26, according to Jake Lipinski, a 15-year veteran of the Kokomo
Fire Department and vice president of the Professional Firefighters
Lipinski said the KFD has
been holding a Fill the Boot campaign for roughly 30 years, and that
this is the first year the department has had “an issue with safety
About a week before the
campaign was scheduled to begin, Lipinski said firefighters were
notified by Kokomo Fire Chief Nick Glover that they no longer could
collect money while standing in the street.
In light of the decision,
Fill the Boot has not been held, and fire department personnel have
continued to fight the restriction.
Lipinski said frustration
has risen in part because any calls to Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight or
Tharp have been returned by Glover.
In an interview, Glover
said he is in favor of the city administration’s decision, citing
safety concerns like texting that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Glover
said he also urged firefighters to work with their union to partner
with local businesses.
“I don’t feel comfortable
with them standing in the roadway anymore,” he said, noting that safety
concerns have been expressed to him by various firefighters in recent
However, Lipinski said
firefighters like himself and Nichole Duff, KFD’s MDA coordinator, are
anxious to speak with officials in the mayor’s office.
“Any time they’d like to
discuss it with us, we would love to discuss it with them,” he said.
“And we believe that maybe we could persuade them to let us do it,
because it’s such a great thing for this community and these families
that benefit from it.”
“If you look at the fire
department, as a group, it’s our tradition. When we’ve been doing it
for so many years it’s hard to take,” added Duff.
Lipinski also questioned
such safety concerns, saying “we’ve been dealing with that for the 30
years that we’ve been doing it, and we make sure that people are well
aware for a long distance that we are here.”
In contrast, Tharp
highlighted the department’s decision to not yet hold a fundraising
campaign. He also questioned the firefighters' choice to comment
publicly before the Common Council, a body which has no control over
Fill the Boot.
“Frankly, we’re surprised
that the fire department has thus far refused to do Fill the Boot in
the other ways,” he said. “Remember, firefighters get paid to do this.
We allow them and encourage them to participate in MDA’s Fill the Boot
while they’re on the clock. They are allowed to do it on the sidewalks,
at community locations…they’ve refused to participate in Fill the Boot
“People in this community
are deeply generous as a part of our character here. The firefighters
refusal to collect money for the MDA is surprising and for them to
mislead folks about the process is troubling,” he added later.
Moving forward, though,
Lipinski said firefighters are hoping to find a solution and get
started with the campaign.
Shea said the fundraiser
could still raise an average amount of funds if it’s held before the
start of cold weather and firefighters are allows in roadways.
“We’re staying positive
with this thing,” said Lipinski. “We want to get out there in the
street, and we want to do this. We think it’s a wonderful thing, so we
just need to get back out there in the street and collect our money.”
Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at
email@example.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.