OKC's panhandling ordinance curbs firefighters 'Fill the Boot' collections
The results of the Oklahoma City Fire Department's Fill the Boot MDA campaign are in, and the total raised is down about 40 percent from last year.
Firefighters this year collected $177,300 in donations, District Chief Benny Fulkerson said. Last year, $301,000 was collected for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he said.
A city ordinance enacted in January to keep panhandlers out of traffic lanes and medians put a damper on collections.
The city cannot make exceptions for firefighters in the ordinance because it shows preferential treatment to certain groups, spokeswoman Kristy Yager said.
"It comes down to a freedom of speech issue. We can't ban one group and allow another
based on the content of their speech," Yager said.
"We have done this for nearly 60 years in Oklahoma City the way we've done it," Fulkerson said. "It was difficult. It was a learning curve for our firefighters."
Frustrations ran high on both sides of the exchange, with some drivers not realizing the firefighters were prohibited from entering the road to collect cash and coins dangled from driver's side windows, he said.
But Fulkerson said some of the money gathered during the first few days of this year's campaign wasn't necessarily done according to the municipal ordinance.
"It was difficult, the first couple of days especially, to get the message communicated
to 1,000 firefighters that they weren't allowed to go out into the street," he said.
Firefighters were relegated to curbs to collect donations from passenger-side windows this year. Frustration prompted some firefighters to abandon collections and focus instead on other duties.
"We probably didn't put as many hours into it as we have in the past," Fulkerson said.
But he stressed that firefighters will continue to participate in fundraising campaigns as long as they are in accordance with current law.
"There's no animosity at all between us and the city. We're the fire department. We know the priority is always going to be public safety. We want to be compliant with anything of that nature, but we'll always participate to whatever degree we're capable," Fulkerson said.
Since 1954, the International Association of Firefighters has raised more than $585.5 million to help children and adults with muscle-debilitating diseases, according to the MDA website.