Allowing convicted felons to serve on a fire department is not a moral/ethical question, but is one of legal liability. Beyond that, it raises serious issues with public trust.
Do we have no more regard for the public that we are sworn to protect that we would knowingly unleash a criminal with a key to the city?
Have we no more respect for the law-abiding members of the fire department that we would force them to act in concert with someone with known criminal tendencies?
Is it worth the potential legal problems from a failed, sociological experiment?
As a trustee for a fire district, I can tell you that the answer to all of the above is a resounding “NO”!
Every fire department should have a “Code of Ethics” that every prospective member should know before they join and would agree to follow if hired.
It goes without saying that current or active members would be guided by the same code of ethics.
If a prospective member has a criminal past, the code has already been violated. There are no second chances. A criminal past cannot be “undone”. Criminals cannot “take it back”, call a “do-over” or pretend that they were young and foolish and made a “mistake”. Breaking the law is not a mistake; it is a crime!
Most reasonable people are driven by the values that were instilled in them by a parent(s), their schools, churches and communities and are re-inforced by the laws of the land.
Though it is not intrusive to a civilized society; for those willing to break laws for personal gain, the laws are designed to discourage any thought of committing a crime by outlining the punishments if you do.
For those who perpetrate a criminal act, it is understood that they need to become gainfully employed once released from prison, but NOT in a public safety position in the public sector.
The private sector is better suited for a criminal assimilating back to Society.
It should be noted that, in my opinion, convicted felons are NOT starting a “new” life. They are resuming their lives with one strike against them.
I realize that you pay for your crime once, but you suffer the cost for the rest of your life-as it should be.
It is the fire department’s “Code of Ethics” that reminds a community that they will be served by the most ethical public servants that can be found and will be uncompromising with this mission.
Codes will not be ignored and rules will not be bent or broken.
Violations of the “Code of Ethics” will result in dismissal with cause.
Following are examples of verbiage often included in a “Code of Ethics” document:
• We will respect ourselves and the public that we represent and serve.
• We recognize that our position as a public servant is a privilege.
• The Public Interest will always be placed before individual, group or special interests.
• We will not discriminate and will work to prevent and to eliminate discrimination where it exists.
• We will accept “thank yous” and gestures of gratitude ONLY and will accept charitable donations in the spirit in which they are given.
• We will not display negative or rude behavior towards the public.
• We will not use our position of trust for personal gain.
• We will always protect the confidentiality of our public’s information.
• No drugs (legal) or alcohol will be consumed while on duty. When off-duty, at least eight (8) hours must pass after drugs (legal) or alcohol has been consumed before a member can respond to a call or callback.
• Statements concerning the fire department will be issued through the Public Information Officer. Personal opinions shall be identified as such.
Keep in mind that it is a “Code of Ethics” and it does not take the place of pre-employment questionnaires, employment applications, criminal background checks or employment contracts. Having members recite a code of ethics may deepen and strengthen their commitment to them.
“Employment” is to be construed as career OR volunteer.
A volunteer fire department can be charged with negligent hiring in the same way a municipality with a full time fire department can.
And I have been advised that “Tort Immunity” will not cover it nor is there insurance for it. You pay cash if negligent hiring can be proven.
If that isn’t enough to discourage you from hiring people who have already proven that they cannot conduct themselves within the confines of the rule of law, then I don’t know what will.
Maybe, some of you weren’t cut out to be trustees.
You probably thought that allowing the fire department to “elect” their members gets you off the hook?
Under the law, you cannot abdicate any of your legally, sworn duties. Allowing the fire department to choose their members is, in fact, “hiring” them. And trustees “approve”, even if they are not directly involved with the decision.
Here, the fire department personnel committee makes the recommendation for a new member and the trustees approve it. Then, the probationary period starts. Once they make it through probation, they are “retained” and approved by the trustees.
But, be sure to use that argument in court: Well, your Honor; the fire department put him on the department. We had nothing to do with it.
Judge: And that’s exactly why you’re here! Get your checkbook out.
So; you might want to re-think that whole second chance mentality; at least where you claim to have the best interests of the public in mind.
The article written by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella is protected by federal copyright law. It cannot be re-produced in any form with the expressed and written permission of the author.
Please visit me at: www.fireemsblogs.com and go to www.chiefreasonart.com.