First, before you start hating me, let me say that I’m amazed by the risk firefighters face and the courage with which they face it. Even Grizzly bears and great whites are afraid of fire. That makes firefighters, who jump into a blazing building, braver than grizzlies and great whites!
(Photo: I took this photo of a firefighter in the street “filling the boot” in my hometown.)
A woman who has an office in the same building I have an office would not be with us any longer if not for the action and courage of local firefighters. Firefighters miraculously rescued her and her husband from a horrible home fire in the middle of the night. They risked their lives to save hers.
The world is a safer place because of these brave individuals, BUT . . .
Every time I see a firefighter standing in the middle of a busy intersection holding a boot and asking for money, I want to go off on a big rant.
This is that rant, sort of.
Do you Fill the Boot? Should you?
Firefighters are ambassadors of all things safety. There is nothing safe about standing in the middle of the street like trolls wielding clubs of guilt to shakedown motorists of their loose change. I don’t give because I don’t want to support the practice.
I’m not alone.
A petition signed by 900 citizens of Loudon County Virginia asking for a ban of panhandlers, including firefighters, was presented to the local Board of Supervisors. The petition led to a ban. The ban was criticized by the regional director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Maybe I was always too busy ignoring the firefighters on the street or pretending to look for loose change and finding none, but I didn’t realize that “Fill the Boot” campaigns raised funds for MDA. The regional director of the Loudon county area said that the campaign had led to more than $800,000 of donations in the past decade, and that standing in the street asking for change was four times more effective than standing at a storefront.
The Washington Post even covered the ban and pointed out that in Fairfax County the campaign raised $568,000 over Labor Day Weekend in 2012. The article included this paragraph which really makes me feel like a jackass:
Joel Kobersteen of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2068, who helps organize the Fairfax program every year . . . said he has met families who would not have gotten medical items such as braces and wheelchairs without the MDA’s help, as well as benefit from “the research that Fairfax County ‘Fill the Boot’ helps fund in order to extend their lives and find cures to their particular neuromuscular diseases.” Last year, Fairfax County’s firefighters collected more than $568,000 over Labor Day weekend, the most in the country for the third time in the last six years.
Risky, bad giving practice, but raises a ton of money
Also, as a giver, I’m not a fan of this practice. It’s not a very intentional way to give. It’s just a step above from being asked at the cash register if you’d like to round up your charge to give to “Charlie.” What’s Charlie?! (That actually happened to me yesterday at a movie theater.)
(I have some giving tips here)
A concerned firefighter who was relieved his station didn’t participate in Fill the Boot wrote into Firefighternation.com’s advice columnist Nozzlehead to ask if the practice was safe. It’s worth a read for a balanced view and history of the campaign, which has raised $500 million for MDA. Nozzlehead saves his biggest criticism for firefighters that have to turn to raising funds for themselves. Here’ the gist of it:
To answer your question directly, the risk is there and if firefighters can come up with better ways to collect these important funds, they should. Volunteer firefighters having to raise funds to operate should be commended, but it’s 2015, and with personal time so tight, it’s time for the local community to ante up and pay for your equipment. You don’t see public works crews doing boot drives to buy new snow plows or cops doing boot drives to buy new cars. Next time you see the city manager or related city hall dwellers doing fundraising to buy their desks or build a new office, take a picture and send it to me. The days of expecting volunteer firefighters to volunteer AND raise money to volunteer is over; many volunteer fire departments can barely get enough people to join, train, and respond.
Specific to those on the roadways, find a better way to raise the funds such as shopping centers, malls, and places where you are less likely to be struck. If you can’t, use extreme caution following the same standards you would anytime you are operating on the roadways.