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Future of Fill the Boot fundraiser in Wilsonville is in question after 2017 missteps

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue did not inform the City of Wilsonville about the Fill the Boot event last year.

This story was updated from its original version.

On a Tuesday in May last year, likely already lamenting the often congested segment of Wilsonville Road near the I-5 on-ramps, drivers may have been perplexed to see a group of firefighters carrying a boot and asking for donations in the middle of traffic.

Those drivers probably didn't know what was going on. And, in fact, the City of Wilsonville didn't know either. Because Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue off-duty firefighters, which participate in the Fill The Boot event to raise money for programs to combat muscular dystrophy and to help those afflicted with the disease, did not notify the City that the event was taking place that day.

"For all they knew there had been some major accident and firefighters were in the middle of the intersection," Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said.

According to Knapp and acknowledged by TVF&R representatives at the April 2 City Council work session, the event in Wilsonville last year was disorganized, unsafe and caused unnecessary hassle for Wilsonville commuters.

"To be frank, we dropped the ball here in Wilsonville last year," Fill the Boot coordinator Grant Slagle said.

In turn, Wilsonville and the firefighters talked about rectifying last year's issues this year — if Wilsonville even allows the event to commence.

The national Fill the Boot initiative raised over $24 million in 2017, including over $450,000 in Oregon, and Wilsonville was one of four Portland metro area cities to participate. The firefighters collected donations near the Wilsonville Road I-5 northbound and southbound on-ramps during last year's event.

In 2017 the off-duty firefighters didn't notify Wilsonville about the event or provide the City with its incident action plan, which outlines safety protocols.

"The fact that you as a city council did not know our event was happening that day was our fault and something we never want to have happen again or never wanted to have happen in the first place," TVF&R firefighter Trevor Novak said.

Knapp expressed dismay that the firefighters lingered in the already congested intersection after the light turned green, that some weren't wearing firefighter vests and that their signs did not clearly indicate to incoming traffic what they were doing. And Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said he received more complaints last year than during previous Fill the Boot events in Wilsonville.

"These are congested intersections and we have a difficult enough time moving traffic through them anyway and the lack of clear organization was very detrimental to enabling the event to run smoothly," Knapp said.

"I need to hear from you folks that you're making sure the plan works the way it says it works."

Novak and Slagle said that if Wilsonville allows the event to take place again this year, event leaders would meet with coordinators prior to the event to discuss standards, make sure each firefighter is wearing a vest, implore the firefighters to exit the intersection as quickly as possible when the light turns green and improve signage so that drivers are immediately aware of the event.

They also suggested moving the location of the donation pickups to the intersection of Wilsonville Road and Town Center Loop West and Wilsonville Road and Boones Ferry Road

"Our relationship with the City is very important to us and going forward we want to put on an event that not just balances the needs of our organization and the need for care for these individuals but also the needs for the city," Slagle said.

If the event were to take place this year, it would occur from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 22. Wilsonville City Council did not decide whether or not to permit the event at the work session.

Novak said no matter how well organized the firefighters are, some complaints are inevitable.

"We always have concerns from citizens. There's no way to eliminate it fully. We try our hardest to minimize it," he said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported who organizes the Fill the Boot fundraiser. The event is organized by off-duty TVF&R firefighters.

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