To the Editor:
I would like to take the opportunity to respond to Auburn City Manager Glenn Aho’s recent Weekly Review in the Twin City TIMES regarding “Fill the Boot.”
On Friday, November 12, Auburn Firefighters Local 797 and Lewiston Firefighters Local 785 gathered in front of Gritty’s in Auburn for their second annual “Gritty’s Boot Drive.” The Boot Drive is a method used by over 3,700 fire departments nationwide to gather money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).
The firefighters donate their personal time to collect money from generous citizens that are simply driving by them in their vehicles. 100 percent of the proceeds go to MDA, which is then distributed to families who need assistance to help battle any of 43 neuromuscular diseases.
Last year we did this event at the same location, and it was a huge success. Last year’s fundraiser collected $5,400 in three-and–a-half hours. This year, we were only able to raise $2,850 because the city changed the rules midway through our fundraiser. The change required us to get out of the street and stay on the sidewalks, which directly conflicted with our signed permit.
To prevent the city from having to wrestle with our fundraiser, the firefighters attempted to comply with the direction given by the city manager. We discussed the plans of our fundraiser with both the Auburn Police and Fire Departments. Both departments agreed to the plan’s location, time and safety measures put in place this year.
Local 797 obtained two special events permits signed by the Chief of Police, which is required according to the city’s ordinance. Auburn City Ordinances Chapter 27 “Use of Streets and Public Places, Section 1.31 Soliciting,” limits soliciting on the streets or sidewalks “without first obtaining from the Chief of Police of Auburn a permit for said purpose.” Both permits stated, “We would be collecting for MDA on the street.”
The city manager mentioned in his weekly review that pedestrians are prohibited from walking in the public way. That statement is true; however, the firefighters were not pedestrians because they had a permit to be on the street collecting for MDA.
Also, if the city manager would have looked a little further at state statutes, he would have found Title 29-A §2109, “Stopping of traffic by hawkers and vendors.” This statute does not permit the stopping of vehicles to solicit contributions unless the event is conducted by a charitable nonprofit organization and received municipal and local law enforcement authorization, which the Auburn Firefighters did.
Another issue is the concerns that the Auburn Fire Department’s acting chief had. Safety is the number-one goal, whether it’s on or off duty and the use of risk management to calculate the consequences. The firefighters were collecting money in a low speed zone with traffic cones and signs and were wearing turnout gear to make it more visible to the passing vehicles.
Also, in the past 23 years, having more than 3,700 I.A.F.F. fire departments doing this same fundraiser technique, there have only been two accidents. One of those accidents was investigated and proven to be pinpointed to one particular firefighter and related to a personal matter, which could have happened at any time.
The next issue is about the permit and whether or not the firefighters are receiving preferential treatment because they are city employees. The permit that was acquired is available for any organization or person as long as the terms of the city’s ordinance is met. The correct paperwork was filled out and signed. At the time, it seemed like all parties were on the same page. There was no special treatment given to the firefighters for their fundraiser, and they were not operating outside the restriction of the permit. If anything, because we are city employees, we are being held to a higher standard.
Finally, the firefighters were wearing the gear that the City of Auburn provides for them. Fire chiefs, past and present, have admirably allowed the firefighters to use the gear during their off time for the needs of the fundraiser. MDA carries a liability insurance policy that covers “active and retired firefighters as MDA volunteers” and includes worker’s comp claims. The city does not have or need any additional insurance for the firefighters.
The Auburn firefighters would like to solve this issue with the City of Auburn so that a good deed can continue to happen. The firefighters would like to continue the collection for MDA on the street and for other organizations to be able to do similar events for any worthy cause. However, the city manager continues to delegate the responsibility to the fire chief, when it’s the city manager that has the concerns with our event.
In order to prevent issues in the future, it is apparent that we all need to understand what the restrictions are going to be. We should learn from our past and take “no steps backward” and solve our issues now by involving all concerned parties. That way the firefighters can schedule and fill out the necessary paperwork for their upcoming event without another miscommunication.
The Auburn and Lewiston Firefighters are very important to MDA. In 2009, we raised 34 percent of the donations collected by firefighters in the State of Maine that were given to MDA. The money raised helps MDA support over 700 families throughout Maine, including 35 families living in the L-A area alone.
Last, but certainly not least, the firefighters of Auburn and Lewiston, as well as the MDA families of Maine, would like to thank the public that took the time to stop and donate. The firefighters appreciate the donations and patience during this event and hope to see you next year at the same location.
You may view the supporting documents at www.iaff797.org.
President, Auburn Firefighters Local 797