- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

District firefighters who took to the streets to solicit donations for victims of last week's terrorist attacks, despite objections from D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few, raised almost $300,000 in just a few days.

The District firefighters, who collected the money while in uniform but on their own time, presented a $293,000 check yesterday to several relief organizations handling assistance for the families of 320 New York firefighters who died Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center.

On Wednesday, Chief Few warned firefighters that soliciting donations at Metro stations and intersections was a violation of the city's panhandling laws.

Lt. Raymond Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said the firefighters involved in the fund-raising effort, after checking with a union attorney, decided to continue soliciting donations using their own boots and helmets as collection baskets.

"He was not behind it because it was not Ronnie Few's idea and he could not get any fanfare out of it," Lt. Sneed said. "This was done by firefighters for firefighters."

Chief Few said he was only trying to prevent his employees from breaking the law.

"I have to go by whatever is in the law," he said.

But Chief Few said he did not know what specific statute firefighters were violating. He also did not know if there was a specific law that prevented firefighters from wearing their uniforms while raising money.

He said he began looking into the fund raising after he received complaints about the solicitations. But Chief Few said he did not know the names of those who complained.

The chief also said he hopes to coordinate other fund-raising efforts that include emergency medical services employees.

"I would like to raise more money," he said.

One of the chief's harshest critics was Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, who accepted the firefighters' $293,000 check yesterday at a ceremony on the Capitol lawn a ceremony attended by Chief Few.

Mr. Weldon, a member of the Congressional Fire and Emergency Services Caucus, called the chief's actions "despicable."

"I'm outraged, to say the least," he said. "[The firefighters] went out of their way to do this."

The congressman said the District Firefighters Association was the first department to come forward with a major contribution toward a fund created to provide college scholarships to the children of New York firefighters who died. The caucus also received contributions of $200,000 from State Farm insurance, $25,000 from First Alert Corp. and $100,000 from Securities Industry Automation Corp.

Mr. Weldon said the money will go to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the Fallen Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and the New York 911 Disaster Relief Fund.

He said the caucus will sponsor another fund-raiser on Oct. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

He said there are 320 firefighters and 63 police officers in New York listed as missing or killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

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