Filling The Boot


News staff writer

August 9, 2006

Hood River Fire Department Lt. Paul Henke is not particularly excited about topping off a long weekend of fund raising by climbing atop a billboard for “Jerry’s Kids.”

But today at 9:30 a.m., he will take the perch on 12th Street adjacent to Nix Drive. He intends to raise the $800 remaining in the $12,000 goal.

“We don’t need that much money so I’m hoping the community will come through and I won’t be there long,” said Henke.

Last weekend, 15 volunteers raised $11,278 in the annual Fill the Boot campaign for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Firefighter Kip Miller and others were in a quandary — they intended to work hard but they secretly wanted to see their superior officer on top of the billboard.

“The problem is that we really want to help the kids too — so I guess we just might have to fib a little,” said Miller.

Donned in red T-shirts and their helmets, firefighters and their family members stationed themselves at the intersections of 12th Street and Pacific Avenue, and Oak and Second Street.

In return for donations, they passed out stickers to motorists showing their support for MDA. Miller even brought along a few plastic fire hats to give to delighted children stopping at his checkpoint in the Heights.

Within 20 minutes of taking his post, Miller had $200 in his boot — so the possibility of Henke ending up on a billboard seemed remote. But he was okay with that since he had already exasperated the lieutenant by offering to double the proceeds with a winning bet.

“Somebody needs to be assigned to keep an eye on Kip so he doesn’t gamble all our money away,” said Henke at Saturday’s briefing.

Miller’s teasing was only part of the good-humored ribbing that Henke endured that morning. When he turned on the inspirational video he had made, firefighter Peter Mackwell asked if it had been filmed by “Wingnut Productions.”

Henke’s 30-minute pep talk provided fodder for many jokes, but when he said, “Everyone get your gear and let’s roll,” the response was immediate.

The firefighters were out of their chairs and within minutes, had taken their stations. They had given up a summer weekend out of respect for Henke’s dedication. Plus, many had visited the MDA camp on Mount Hood and had fallen in love with the children they met there.

The fund-raiser also provided the opportunity for some good, clean competition.

“Hey Kip, quit pussyfooting around and get some money,” said firefighter Brad Stewart after scoring a $60 donation.

All of the passing motorists were thanked politely, whether they answered positively or negatively to, “Do you have spare change for the kids?”

“It’s fun being out here and showing the community we support the kids and want to help out,” said firefighter John Logan.

Some drivers honked to show support and others yelled statements of encouragement, such as “Fill ‘em up.” Many drivers held the money out the window for a quicker drop while others dug in a purse or wallet and then circled back around to make a contribution.

“Sometimes people even go get money and come back. They are really good,” said Miller.

Last year, Hood River ranked second in the state for its Fill the Boot donation based on the number of participating firefighters. Henke hopes to score the first place spot this year — which is part of his motivation for sitting on the billboard.

“I don’t think people are going to let me down,” he said.

Henke said the take during two days of standing on the hot pavement included $4,675 of $1 bills — and $1,403 in change. One motorist gave a $100 bill, the single largest contribution of the weekend.

The money will be turned over to MDA for research and programs, such as the customized camp, that benefit disabled children and adults.

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