Bill would allow firefighters’ Labor Day ‘Fill the Boot’ campaign to return to the streets

Fort Wayne firefighter Doug Castator solicits funds in previous “Fill the Boot” campaign for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Russ Jehl
Jeremy Bush

Despite an attempt to ban the practice, Fort Wayne firefighters could soon be back on the streets raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Members of Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124 announced last August they had been informed by the city that they could no longer conduct their annual “Fill the Boot” campaign on city streets because of safety concerns but could solicit funds in parking lots and other areas deemed less dangerous.

On Tuesday, however, City Council will consider a bill sponsored by Russ Jehl, R-2nd, that would allow solicitations for charitable purposes on public right-of-ways. The Fill the Boot campaign has historically been held in conjunction with the MDA’s Labor Day Telethon and raised more than $107,000 in recent years but dropped to less than $40,000 last year after the new policy took effect.

Fire Union President Jeremy Bush said passage of the ordinance would remove any legal obstacle to soliciting on the street but that participation in the annual MDA campaign would still require the approve of Fire Chief Eric Lahey and other officials. Mayor Tom Henry seems supportive, Bush said.

The ordinance would require charitable organizations to apply for a solicitation permit and to agree to hold the city harmless for any lawsuits damages associated with the activity. Liability insurance of at least $1 million per occurrence must also be provided.

The ordinance also requires solicitation activities to follow certain guidelines, including the age of participants, time, and the need for a safety plan.

“The ‘Fill the Boot’ campaign is a mainstay partnership in Fort Wayne between the fire department and the Muscular Dystrophy Association,” Jehl said. “The administration cited safety concerns but firefighters are big boys and girls who want to help sick kids, and MDA is giving the department access to their insurance policy.”

Firefighters participate in the program voluntarily but are on duty, Bush said.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to get back on the street,” he added.