LEWISTON – Councilors will let firefighters
collect donations to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association near the
entrances of the Great Falls Balloon Festival in an attempt to settle a
community controversy.

The festival’s board of directors and the firefighters’ union were at a
standoff about whether the firefighters should be allowed to collect
money for their charity during the festival.

Councilors said both groups are important and do good work and the council urged them to settle their differences.

“If you can’t work it out, then mom and dad may have to work it out for you,” Councilor Tom Peters said.

Representatives from the festival board of directors said that letting
the firefighters’ union collect donations during the event works
against other community charities that participate in the festival.
Those groups, including athletic boosters, church and school
organizations, pay a fee for booths to sell food or monitor parking
during the event.

Rick Cailler, president of the firefighters’ union, said his group
simply wants to do what it can to help a charity. In the past,
firefighters wandered the grounds of the festival wearing their dress
uniforms, asking passers-by to fill a rubber boot with donations.

They typically raise $8,000 per year with their “Fill the Boot” campaign.

Last year, after balloon festival organizers banned them from the grounds, firefighters raised $1,500.

“So you can see this is important to us,” Cailler said.

Councilor Robert Reed said he attempted to host negotiations between
the groups Saturday at his house, but festival representatives declined
to participate. He was willing to withhold city support of the event
because of the disagreement.

The Great Falls Balloon Festival is scheduled for Aug. 21-23. Events
will be spread over both cities, but will be concentrated at
Simard/Payne Memorial Park – formerly Railroad Park – in Lewiston.
Organizers asked for the use of city parks and parking lots and for the
right to close some city streets during the festival. They also asked
the city to provide police officers, public works and other staff,
which would cost $15,699.

Festival board member Mike Theriault said his
group offered to let the firefighters rent a booth at the festival.
They declined, and Councilor Tom Peters said he understood why.

“Sometimes people have a way of working and they don’t want to have to
change,” Peters said. “They want to walk around, talking to people in
their uniforms and handing out candy. That’s what works for them.”

Councilors decided to allow firefighters to pass their boot, but away
from festival grounds. They’ll be allowed to ask for donations 30 feet
from the pedestrian entrances to the festival.

Festival board members declined to comment on the council’s decision
immediately after the meeting but later issued a joint statement. They
said they would continue planning for this year’s festival, but board
members would have to decide whether they wanted to continue
volunteering for the event in future years.

Mike Theriault is the circulation director for the Sun Journal.


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