After numerous complaints regarding public safety, the Madison City Council voted Tuesday to allow firefighters to participate in the annual “Fill the Boot” fundraiser along the streets of Madison for at least the next two years.
Firefighters in Madison participated in the nationwide nonprofit campaign for the first time this September in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a city of Madison statement said.
Several concerns about public safety had been raised regarding the campaign, the statement added, which involves firefighters located on the corners near their fire stations collecting money in a boot from drivers traveling through the intersections.
The fundraiser had initially been allowed to proceed as an “experiment,” which is still slated for review after three years.
Kevin Sherry, a spokesperson for the firefighters, said they raised $27,000 in donations without any incidents. He dismissed the complaints they had received, saying they were due to inexperience on their first day of collecting funds.
A handful of community members took the opportunity to speak in support of the firefighters’ fundraiser, praising the benefits of the firefighter involvement and the aid it offers to the MDA.
Elizabeth Armaza, whose child has muscular dystrophy and was not expected to live longer than two years, stressed the safety of the event and the enormous impact it has on families, including her own.
Chelsey Emmett, a spokesperson for MDA, asked for the council to allow the firefighters to contribute to their research and funding.
“The firefighters are our number one funder and supporter,” she said, explaining that every guideline was followed in the fundrasier. “Funding will be cut without them.”
Mayor Paul Soglin voiced his issues with the event, particularly regarding the safety of pedestrians and vehicles as well as the prospect of other public employees asking for donations.
Soglin spoke of how he had seen a firefighter nearly hit by a vehicle while collecting funds in Madison and recounted incidents in several other states where accidents had happened because of the fundraiser.
“I think we have a very serious problem here. Firefighters may know how to respond, but we don’t necessarily have drivers that know how to respond,” he said.
Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, supported the continuation of the roadside fundraiser.
“Here is a group that wants to help,” she said. “We decided it was worth the risk before. We take risks every day. I think we should support [the event].”
Still, Ald. Jill Johnson, District 16, echoed Soglin’s concerns, calling the fundraiser an “unnecessary risk.”
She was also concerned that the council was giving special attention to the fundraiser.
“How are we going to decide that this is the worthiest charity”? she asked.
A motion was made and subsequently passed requesting the amendment be filed without prejudice, meaning it will be dismissed and reviewed at its previously intended time in two years.
Where the debate leads in the next two years depends on the continued safety of the event and the interest that other groups may have in similar fundraisers.
For now, the fundraiser will continue to fill its boots to the brim with donations.