Kokomo firefighters at odds with city over ‘Fill the Boot’ fundraiser changes

KOKOMO, Ind. – Every fall firefighters across the country take to the streets gathering money in boots for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). But city leaders in Kokomo want the program to change there because of safety concerns.

The firefighters’ union is not happy.

“Very frustrating,” said Christopher Frazier, President of Kokomo Firefighters’ Local 396.

Frazier said the firefighters were supposed to hold their fundraiser a month ago and found out days before the city wanted to make changes. The changes include requiring firefighters to stand on sidewalks or near storefronts to take up money and not in the streets.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve done it for thirty years,” he said, “We really have pushed to make it a safe process.”

Frazier said safety’s been a priority for Kokomo firefighters. They wear special reflective shirts when they stand in traffic, and MDA has an insurance policy in place that covers firefighters that fundraise.

“It is absolutely devastating to us. Kokomo is our second largest department for northern Indiana, so this is a huge blow to us,” said Sonja Cronin, Executive Director for MDA of northern Indiana.

Cronin said forcing firefighters to collect money on sidewalks or at storefronts can cut donations by two-thirds.

Kokomo raises an average of $22,000 yearly, meaning they’d only pull in a figure of roughly $7,000. The money supports clinical visits, medical supplies, and summer camps for 22 families of children with muscular dystrophy in Howard County.

“Firefighters get paid to do fill the boot, so these are folks that are doing this on city time, and there are certain safety restrictions that the city places on them to do it,” said David Tharp, Deputy Mayor, with the city of Kokomo.

Tharp said the city wants firefighters to participate, and they’re not stopping them from holding the fundraiser, just telling them they’ll have to change it.

He said the administration started looking into it after a USA Today article last year, noting safety concerns with firefighter fundraisers across the country.

“All we’ve said is that we have to make sure that firefighter safety is a top concern of ours,” he said.

The reasoning, at least for Frazier, isn’t good enough.

“We in the past five years have worked to mark off the roads with cones, mark lanes for the cars to come down,” he said.

It’s unclear when or if the fundraiser will take place this year.

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