This is in response to the guest column, a fact-free attack, by Harold Brooks, a member of the Great Falls Balloon Festival board of directors (June 28).

Brooks wrote that Lewiston firefighters never offered money to the festival when, in fact, the firefighters offered numerous proposals over a two-year period that included money and volunteer assistance. Festival officials never once replied directly to the firefighters. They attempted to have the firefighters arrested on two occasions.

A last-minute agreement allowed our attendance last year, if we refrained from talking to the public or dispensing candy to children, knowing those restrictions would limit the public contributions to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In that, they were successful, as revenue was down last year, which affected the 40-plus families in the Lewiston-Auburn area who utilize services from MDA of Maine, which is, in part, supported by firefighter boot drives.

Brooks does not tell readers that prior to this new festival board assuming leadership, firefighters were allowed attendance. We have come to be viewed as an enemy that they have to defeat. We refused to mislead the public; they chose to attempt to ban us from public property. They refused other offers and continually turned back all our efforts. Now, they have resorted to calling the city’s firefighters freeloaders. The Lewiston Firefighters Association has given back more than $30,000 to local nonprofits since it instituted its Community Benefit Fund several years ago. I challenge the festival to equal that record.

The comment about the Lewiston City Council giving firefighters $13,000 instead of the festival was never meant as a serious gesture. The council was responding to a threat by a festival board member of walking away from future festivals because of firefighter attendance — an attempt to intimidate the City Council.

Quite frankly, the city has been generous for many years in assisting the festival. Apparently that is taken for granted. Instead of referring to firefighters donating their time for children with muscular dystrophy as freeloaders, maybe the festival board of directors should look at how they handled the entire event. They use city property, take city taxpayer money, city staff aid the event, they threaten to arrest firefighters, and then they write that they are treated badly by the City Council after 17 years of support.

I have to question what would make them happy. Perhaps a change of festival leadership is what is needed.

Rick Cailler, Lewiston
President, Lewiston Firefighters Association

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