Belton firefighters nearly tripled their annual contribution to the Muscular Dystrophy Association over the Labor Day weekend through the support of local residents.
Firefighters collected a record-breaking $18,160 during their annual “Fill the Boot” fundraiser over a three-day collection period from Aug. 30-Sept. 1.
“It speaks highly of what a great city we have,” Belton Fire Captain Steve Kratofil said.
Canvassing the intersection of Missouri 58 and Route Y in Belton, firefighters collected funds from drivers passing by for the MDA, which supports about 30 Cass County families.
In the past 10 years, Belton firefighters collected an average of about $6,500 in donations annually, and before this year, their highest record was set with a $11,500 contribution.
The boost in donations was attributed to city leaders making a claim this summer that it is illegal for firefighters to be paid while raising money for charity.
The City Council approved Kratofil’s request in April for the firefighters’ on-duty participation in the same manner it has for decades.
Kratofil was then put on the spot at a July council meeting and was told that he would need to get special permission for firefighters to be on the clock during the fundraiser, citing new legal advice brought forth by City Attorney Aaron March.
City leaders say that the Missouri Constitution prohibited the city from paying the firefighters for doing work that uniquely and exclusively benefits the MDA, and that the City Council cannot authorize payment for this work without finding there is a legitimate city service being performed.
Kratofil was denied permission and has been fighting the decision since.
Belton firefighters have been doing the “boot block” for the MDA while “on-the-clock” since 1972, and he believes the city’s new stance is political.
Since the uproar, firefighters committed to doing the fundraiser whether they got paid or not, but cited safety concerns that would exist if they were off-duty.
Kratofil’s plea ended up in court in August.
The week before the slated fundraiser, firefighters obtained a temporary restraining order against the city of Belton that would allow on-duty firefighters to collect funds through the end of the month, allowing them to collect “on-duty” through first half of the Labor Day weekend.
Kratofil said the fundraiser is more of a public relations event for firefighters to meet residents and to hand out stickers that include fire safety tips.
Due to the publicity of the conflict with the city, Kratofil said citizens responded in a giving way during the fundraiser, surpassing his goal to raise $15,000 for the charity.
By the end of Friday, the first collection day, firefighters had already collected $6,749. But this year was different in more ways than just one.
“Everybody is glad we’re out here like we are every year, and they’re speaking with their wallets,” said Kratofil, on Saturday afternoon. “It’s big for us to be able to talk to our citizens and remind them to look at the back of the stickers to read the safety message.”
Collections this year totaled more than $18,000, joining other the Local 42 union firefighters in raising $100,000 throughout the weekend across the Kansas City region.
In another effort, a group of residents from across the county responded to the issue after it was brought up on the Cass County Rants and Raves Facebook group.
“Someone had gotten on there and said that they were upset because the firefighters could go to Home Depot, or whatever, but they couldn’t stand on the corner and collect for MDA,” Garden City resident Rebecca Box said. “A group of us got together and decided we could fix that. We started a Facebook page and it kind of blew up from there.”
The residents said they were upset in how city leaders responded to the issue, and decided to organize their own fundraiser to benefit the MDA alongside the firefighters.
Residents drew donations from area individuals and businesses to donate food and other supplies to operate a food stand at the HeartNHand L.I.F.T. Campus near the intersection where the firefighters were collecting money on Saturday
“We wanted to make sure to make sure the firefighters knew the people of the city were behind them,” said John Manford, a Belton resident who helped with the food stand on Saturday. “They can do good, or they can sit in the fire station. I would much rather see them making their presence felt.”
The organizers named their efforts, “Boots and BBQ” and all proceeds were then given to the MDA who uses the money to send children with Muscular Dystrophy to a summer camp.
“We have a very charitable city,” Kratofil said. “This is for as a city purpose (although) some of our city officials are saying that it’s not. Lets try to work together and find out how we can be more charitable than less.”