Racy Fundraisers Can Cause Trouble

Plans for a bawdy fundraiser at a suburban volunteer fire station led to a serious public relations problem and potential legal troubles. Prompt and strong action by fire district leaders prevented what might have developed into a serious problem. The...


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Many volunteer fire departments and rescue squads (including my own) depend on financial support from the communities they serve. Weiner acknowledges that it can be difficult to gain attention in the midst of a sea of other charities. But, there are hundreds of kinds of fundraising activities that can be quite profitable, and far more appropriate than “Catfight Babes.” In 2000, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) published Funding Alternatives for Fire and EMS Services, a comprehensive guide to potential funding sources for fire departments of all types. It includes information on private-sector grants and foundation funding, and a state-by-state breakdown of available funding programs. (This valuable resource can be obtained for free through the USFA website at www.usfa.fema.gov.)

One of the great strengths of our American culture is the way in which communities voluntarily band together to take care of themselves and their neighbors. Nowhere is this more evident than in our system of volunteer fire departments, which serve much of the nation. Departments have come up with countless creative ways of raising support (both financial and other types). And, in good times and bad, Americans are remarkably generous in their support of their local fire departments. The nationwide outpouring of support for fire departments following the 9/11 attacks was simply an extension of the support we in the fire service have enjoyed for more than 250 years.

However, the fire service should not be sponsoring sexually oriented fundraising events such as this. The values and attitudes promoted by this type of event are wrong. The send a totally inappropriate message to the community that depends on us to meet their most urgent needs at times of crisis. No amount of money raised can overcome the damage to our credibility and public support that these events cause. We don’t need to stoop to the level of “Catfight Babes” in order to obtain the support we need from the communities that we serve.


Steve Blackistone, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an attorney and a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.