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Bill would allow fundraising tactic: Fargo firefighters are unlikely to solicit after Moorhead flap

A popular fundraising tactic used by firefighters could hit the streets in North Dakota - but likely not in Fargo - if the Legislature OKs a bill scheduled for a hearing this week.

Filling the boot
Moorhead firefighter Todd Church collects a donation in a boot from a motorist amid traffic in 2008 in Moorhead. Forum file photo

A popular fundraising tactic used by firefighters could hit the streets in North Dakota - but likely not in Fargo - if the Legislature OKs a bill scheduled for a hearing this week.

House Bill 1313 would allow firefighters to solicit charitable contributions from motorists.

Fargo firefighters are unlikely to take part in the on-street "Fill the Boot" campaign raising money for the Multiple Dystrophy Association. The reason is in part because of public reception in 2008 to Moorhead firefighters gathering donations from motorists, said Bill Bush, a Fargo firefighter and president of the local union.

"It's not something we're going to be striving for at this time," he said.

In 2008, on-duty Moorhead firefighters pursued donations while vehicles were stopped at red lights near two city intersections.


The city received complaints, and officials raised safety and legal concerns over the tactics used. The practice was suspended after 2008, said Rich Duysen, acting Moorhead fire chief.

City Manager Michael Redlinger said Moorhead adopted a policy in 2008 that prohibits on-duty employees or the use of city equipment for private charitable fundraising.

The practice, however, is a common model used by the International Association of Firefighters for its MDA fundraisers across the U.S., Duysen said.

"It wasn't like we were trying to pull a stunt," Duysen said.

"There's a number of communities that it's not an issue," he said. "Right or wrong or otherwise, our community didn't think that was appropriate."

Redlinger asked the fire department to quit the practice in 2008, Duysen said.

Now the MDA fundraiser is held in designated areas, such as at grocery stores, Duysen said.

But the on-street approach was effective, Duysen said. In 2008, Moorhead firefighters raised $24,000, double what the fire department raised in 2007.


The intent of the North Dakota bill is to leave a decision about the fundraising tactics up to a city, said state Rep. Ron Guggisberg, a Fargo legislator and firefighter who is sponsoring the bill.

Minnesota passed a similar measure last year, said Guggisberg, a Democrat.

The bill also aims to create an exception to an existing North Dakota traffic law that states no person may stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting employment, business, or contributions from the occupant of any vehicle, said Justin Adolf, a Bismarck firefighter and president of the Professional Firefighters of North Dakota.

The bill limits solicitations to three calendar days each year. It also requires the charitable organization to provide a city with proof of insurance against bodily injury and property damage as a result of soliciting.

Adolf said the idea behind the fundraiser is to pick an intersection that's not going to block or hamper traffic.

"In the fire service, safety is always our first issue," he said.

Minot and Grand Forks firefighters have shown interest in an on-road type fundraiser, Adolf said.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 8 a.m. Friday with the House Political Subdivisions Committee.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511

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