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City to address 'Fill the Boot' tactics

Moorhead city officials in coming weeks plan to discuss the aggressive tactics used by firefighters this week to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Moorhead city officials in coming weeks plan to discuss the aggressive tactics used by firefighters this week to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

City Administrator Michael Redlinger said Friday they will discuss safety concerns, as well as the legality of firefighters using city property to raise money for a third party.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 31 on-duty Moorhead firefighters stood at busy intersections in Moorhead, collecting donations for MDA. During the first two days, firefighters would weave through cars stopped at red lights to collect money in rubber firefighter boots. Some even stood in busy turn lanes and pursued cars during green lights.

The "Fill the Boot" event raised $24,000 for the MDA, about double what the fire department raised last year.

But fire officials admit they received complaints from the public, and at least one city official said the tactics bothered him, even if it's decided they were legal.


"Personally, it bothers me to have anyone walking in traffic, even if they have protective, reflective shirts on," Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said. "This whole thing will probably go through some review."

Redlinger added that the implementation of the project raised concerns, not the project itself.

Bowing to public complaint, the firefighters changed their tactics on the third day of fundraising, Moorhead Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Wallin said.

On the final day, firefighters waited until the traffic lights were red before entering the street. When the lights turned green again, they retreated to the medians, Wallin said.

"It ended up being a much safer way to collect donations," he said.

While a safety plan was devised for this year's campaign and safety meetings held for participating firefighters, not all attended. MDA and fire department officials said they plan more meetings next year so that all participants will be aware of the safety plan.MDA Regional Coordinator Chris Zupfer said they'll closely follow the safety plan.

In the 50-year history of MDA's "Fill the Boot" there has only been one firefighter injured nationwide, Zupfer said.

He added that other motorists complained to fire department officials about the legality of the firefighters' panhandling in the streets, but Zupfer said the event was within the law.


"There was nothing that was illegal about the program at all," Zupfer said.

There is a Moorhead ordinance that reads, "no person shall place themselves or go from place to place begging," but an appeals court decision ruled it unenforceable, Moorhead Deputy Police Chief Bob Larson said.

"We do not arrest people for panhandling in the city," Larson said. "If we get complaints, we ask them to move along."

He said if there was a complaint about "Fill the Boot" as a traffic obstruction, they would enforce it, but Moorhead Police did not receive any calls.

"I think overall the event was successful beyond our expectations," said Wallin, the assistant fire chief. "We think we would be doing well if we raised half that amount of money."

Zupfer estimated 8,000 people donated during the three-day event. "The response from the kids in the cars and the families pulling up was great," he said.

The MDA's Zupfer said "Fill the Boot" will be an annual event in Moorhead. And Wallin reiterated that the firefighters want to do the event again.

MDA is still in negotiations with the Fargo Fire Department to set up a summer "Fill the Boot" similar to the Moorhead event, Zupfer said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Alyssa Schafer at (701) 235-7311.

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