EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 14, 2013

Council blasts firefighters' Labor Day fundraiser

Traffic clogs roads as donations collected from cars

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — Everyone agrees it’s for a good cause.

But city councilors said firefighters have been violating rules, inconveniencing drivers and creating dangerous traffic conditions by stopping motorists to solicit donations during their annual Labor Day fundraising campaign for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The council recently declined to give the firefighters a tag day license to collect donations Aug. 30 on some of the city’s busiest areas — Main Street at Rosemont Street and River Street at Lowell Avenue.

“Last year, there were on-duty firefighters out in the middle of the street stopping traffic and clogging major roads for miles in all directions,” said Councilor William Ryan, who led the effort to block approval of the license until the firefighters come to a meeting to discuss the council’s concerns.

“It’s a great cause and I agree having toll booths with firefighters in uniform in the middle of street stopping traffic is a great way to raise money,” Ryan said. “But I don’t think this is something we should be doing or allowing. ... Families who are trying to leave the city on vacation are basically being subjected to a toll. Some cars are going in the breakdown lane to get by. We could have a tragedy if someone isn’t paying attention.”

Councilors said stopping traffic to solicit donations is also illegal.

“We passed an ordinance to keep the firefighters out of the of middle of the street, but it’s being ignored,” Ryan said. “Last year, I called the mayor and asked him to call the police chief and put an end to it, but nothing was done and it went on for days.”

Mayor James Fiorentini did not return a message seeking his comment. Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro, who is in charge of both the police and fire departments, declined comment.

DeNaro, who has already given his consent for the Labor Day fundraiser, said it is his understanding that a representative of the Fire Department will attend the council’s May 28 meeting “to answer questions and address concerns” about the fundraiser.

Other councilors said they agree with Ryan.

“We passed an ordinance to stop this, but they are back in the street,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said of firefighters.

“They do it because it gets good results, but it’s dangerous and it’s a huge inconvenience to families that are trying to get out of Haverhill to go on vacation.”

“It slows traffic and they don’t have the right to do it,” Councilor William Macek said. “Even though it’s a great cause, they are violating the ordinance. They need to do it (collect donations) without inconveniencing drivers and jeopardizing safety.”

The council agreed to invite a representative of the Fire Department to its May 28 meeting and reconsider the license at that time.

“We need to get them in here and get an agreement on the rules and the locations, and come to an understanding about what they can and can’t do,” said Councilor Michael Hart, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

The firefighters are also asking to collect money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, but those collections would take not place on streets.

They would be at the High Street and Water Street fire stations and in a parking lot in Bradford’s Central Square.