These boots weren’t made for seeking donations in highway traffic
Brainerd firefighters’ “Fill the Boot” fundraiser got the boot Wednesday from one of two locations where they were raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, it was learned Friday.
Rich Munsch, permit supervisor for Baxter’s Minnesota Department of Transportation office, said the State Patrol asked firefighters to quit soliciting donations from motorists at the intersection of Highway 371 and 210 (near Kohls) because they did not have a permit. Munsch said they weren’t issued a permit for that location because of the construction going on in that vicinity.
Also at issue was whether firefighters were authorized to collect donations from motorists.
On Thursday firefighters were given a permit for their other announced fundraising location at Washington and Northwest Fourth streets. However the MnDOT permit stipulated firefighters were not to be in the street or median and were not to interact with motorists. Interaction, Munsch said, would include collecting money from them.
A substitute Baxter fundraising site was established for Thursday and Friday at Glory Road and Elder Drive near Walmart. Munsch said MnDOT had no jurisdiction over that location.
Jennifer Crown, executive director of the state MDA in Duluth, said similar fundraisers are conducted at controlled intersections in 9,000 cities nationwide.
“In 57 years this is the first time I’ve heard of MnDOT suggesting we go through them with a permit,” she said.
She said Brainerd firefighters raised $6,600 in the first two days of the three-day campaign, which concluded Friday. She expected the Brainerd firefighters would raise about $10,000.
Crown said the Minnesota Legislature approved legislation that protects the rights of firefighters to collect money in this manner and protects cities that want to make an exception for them to do so, while not permitting other groups.
“I wouldn’t think they (MnDOT) would have authority over the governor’s office,” Crown said.
Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek, who had been out of town during much of the fundraiser, said it was his understanding his personnel were following the permit. He said he had received no complaints about the fundraising activity. The fire chief said Friday firefighters may have been in the median early in the fundraiser but had discontinued that.
Stunek said firefighters work in traffic all the time and could be trusted to act responsibly. He said he understood that firefighters were not allowed to go up and knock on the windows of vehicles.
MnDOT did express concerns about the fundraising at the Highway 210-371 junction, Stunek said because Anderson Brothers Construction already had a permit to do construction there.
Munsch said he issues permits district-wide and cannot be out at each site to observe what permit-holders are doing. He said that if motorists chose to pull over and donate money to the firefighters that would be permissible.
The MDA news release on the Brainerd-Baxter event urged residents to “drop some cash into a boot when you see your area firefighters out on the streets raising money.”
MDA is a voluntary health agency that works in communities to help children and adults who affected by any of 42 neuromuscular diseases covered by MDA’s comprehensive medical services and research programs. The programs, a news release said, are funded almost entirely by individual, private contributions.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.