Clark County commissioners declined Wednesday to overrule Fire Chief Bertral Washington's decision that firefighters must be off-duty while collecting money for charity.
They clarified the intent of a 12-year-old resolution supporting firefighters raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Fill the Boot program because it appeared to conflict with the recent policy, according to County Manager Don Burnette.
Commissioners crafted their response to support the annual MDA boot drive, support the chief's policy, and permit the use of department resources including vehicles and uniforms. The resolution also gives the county manager and fire chief power to make future changes to the policy including using on-duty staff .
Dozens of families affected by muscular dystrophy pleaded with the commissioners to continue supporting firefighters and their boot drive fundraiser. They feared that the controversy would lead to the county prohibiting the firefighters from participating in the program.
Robert, a 15-year-old afflicted with a form of the degenerative muscle disease, wheeled himself in front of commissioners and grabbed a microphone.
"Firefighters are on the street corners trying to help me," he said. "Every time they drop a dollar in the boot, it's like they're saying I matter."
But commissioners made it clear that supporting the boot drive wasn't an issue. The discussion focused on on-duty versus off-duty firefighters utilizing county resources to collect donations.
Burnette had suggested repealing the original resolution, which was written in 2000 by then-Commissioner Erin Kenny.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who voted with the rest of the commission to reject Burnette's proposal, said there was no language specifying whether firefighters should be on duty or off duty while collecting donations.
"I don't see the need to repeal," she said. "I think it sends the wrong message. I don't think anything needs to be clarified. I think we're in search of a problem to fix rather than a solution. This discussion has tainted the fundraising ability."
Commissioner Tom Collins, irritated by the discussion, made it clear he thought the board was wasting the community's time.
"I think it's pretty obvious that this board has supported the chief's discretion because the chief's already made a decision. We've been burning a lot of taxpayer daylight."
Roxan Triolo Olivas, MDA public relations director, said she is worried off-duty fundraising will result in less money for vital programs.
"It's not an ideal situation," Olivas said in an email. "In the small handful of cities that have taken this approach, it has proven to have a deleterious effect on the money raised."
Ryan Beaman, president of Local 1908, said donations are used to purchase wheelchairs and provide funding for a MDA kids summer camp in Lake Tahoe.
In one weekend this year, firefighters raised $35,000 for the charity, he said.
"It leaves in place what we currently do today," Beaman said. "The public loves to see us out there and has been very generous. It's all about the kids."
In a memo last year to county management, Washington wrote that he made the change because department resources are "very limited" and need to be prioritized. Other charities had asked about using Fire Department resources to raise funds, Washington wrote.
The department has allowed on-duty firefighters to collect for the MDA Fill the Boot program. Washington wrote the change in policy is a matter of fairness to other nonprofits interested in partnering with the department.
Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-455-4519.