Safety issues, setting a precedent are main concerns
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The Board of Public Works unanimously denied a request from the Marshfield Fire and Rescue Union that would have allowed Marshfield firefighters to enter intersections during red lights or at stop signs to collect money from motorists for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s (MDA) Fill the Boot campaign.
The campaign takes place in cities across the state and country, but the Board of Public Works expressed concerns that allowing firefighters into city intersections would be both a safety hazard and open the city up to multiple groups asking to do the same style of fundraiser.
Heather Buchberger, a fundraising coordinator for MDA, showed data during a presentation on Monday night illustrating that firefighters entering intersections resulted in higher fundraising totals than off-street fundraising activities. Kaukauna went from $1,000 to $2,000 raised by going from off the street to on the street collections, and Antigo went from $900 to nearly $4,000.
The intersection listed on the Board of Public Works agenda was Central Avenue and Ives Street, though Buchberger said that MDA and the firefighters had not settled on a definite location.
Funds raised as part of the Fill the Boot campaign go towards health education, a summer camp for children with muscular disease, support groups, and other programs, Buchberger said. She noted that in other Fill the Boot campaigns, intersections are marked with traffic cones and signage, and firefighters must wear safety vests and only approach stopped vehicles at a red light or stop sign.
Campaign organizers had hoped to conduct the event some time in September. Board member Ed Wagner said that he could not vote to approve the use of intersections because it could jeopardize firefighters’ safety.
“You’re asking me as a councilman to balance the firefighters’ safety with how much money you can raise, and that’s not acceptable,” Wagner said.
“This is a way that throughout the nation they are increasing their donations towards us and helping our families and fight for that cure,” Bucherberger said, noting again that on the street campaigns tend to be more successful than off the street fundraising efforts.
In a memo City Engineer Tom Turchi wrote that despite the worthy cause he felt obligated to recommend against allowing the request.
“As city engineer it is my duty to make recommendations to enhance the safety of the traveling public within our community,” Turchi wrote. “Having one employee of the fire department struck by a vehicle is one too many.”
Turchi added that approving such fundraising activity could open a “Pandora’s box” with multiple groups then requesting to approach motorists and ask for donations.
Board member Chris Jockheck said he was surprised that so many other communities have approved this activity and asked if Turchi would look into why those communities have allowed it. Turchi said that regardless of what his counterparts in other communities might say, he would not change his opinion that it is an unsafe activity.
Jockheck also said that while he respects the cause, he is uncomfortable with the idea of a person approaching his vehicle and asking for money.
“I’m surprised that this is even thought of as a way of collecting money,” Jockheck said.
The board advised that highly populated events like the upcoming Central Wisconsin State Fair or Maple Fall Fest could make for good locations to raise funds for MDA.