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How do we keep letting these things happen??

I am getting to be a bit, well, appalled at all the corruption scandals going on in the fire service.

Lets take the theft of money. It seems like every couple of days there is a new story about some VFD Treasurer dipping into the departments funds to go gambling, pay their mortgage or just spend on whatever. WTFO?

What really boggles the mind is how long they have been doing it in some cases. When they are robbing you blind for years in a row, how do you explain that to the citizens whose money is gone? On my department, we do an annual audit of the books by the Board of Directors. The treasurer, and if a new treasurer has been elected, the incoming treasurer, come in with all the books and receipts and the books are checked. Any discrepancies have to be explained, and fixed. Thus far, this has worked well for us.

What do you do to make sure everything is on the up and up? Is your treasurer required to be bonded? It may be a good idea, and if anything does go wrong, you are covered to a point.

But again, how do we let these things keep happening people? Trust in our Brothers and Sisters is a good thing, but we are accountable to the people for their money, and should be able to justify every penny spent, and show where it was spent. We must hold our treasurers accountable to us first, and make sure they do not drag our departments name through the mud! Catch it before it becomes headlines in the local paper and on Firegeezer! When someone is caught with their hand in the till, make sure they are punished, including by the law.

Yes, I said it, with the LAW. There is nothing wrong with that! I can hear some of you now, "but Jim has been my Brother Firefighter for twenty years!" Yeah, and once he began STEALING from his Brothers and the taxpayers, he lost any right to be treated as a Brother by the Brotherhood! He broke trust with you, the taxpayers he swore to serve, and with the fire service as a whole! He disgraced your department and all the good you have done! He is no Brother to you!

From a PR standpoint, (some PR experts may disagree) the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to expose the thief and ensure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This will be the best way to reassure the citizens that the department is trying to do the right thing. A press release stating that you discovered it during a regular audit, and then contacted law enforcement will go a long way to keeping the trust of your citizens. Saying nothing, and letting rumor and exaggeration take over will only make things worse. Make sure that you get it out as early as possible, so that your voice is the first one talking about it. That is the only way to control the message.

Lets do the right thing out there folks. DTRT by your departments, DTRT by your citizens, and DTRT by the Fire Service.

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Comment by Wayne Zeman on April 10, 2013 at 2:20am
Thanks for pointing that out Charles. You are so right, it is not limited to the volunteer side of the house, nor even to just fire departments.

There are plenty of instances of union treasurers, and EMS company incidents. What I don't think is happening is that it is happening more frequently, just that the info is more available and reported now. When I started in the fire service, you would be lucky to hear about something like this if it happened in the next county, let alone across the country. Today, the news from a tiny hamlet in Indiana can be read about in California the same day. Thank you Internet!

I think that especially because of the rapid spread of news today, we have to make sure we respond to these incidents with quick and proper media releases, and makes sure that "good old Jim" doesn't get a slap on the wrist. We have to protect the public interest, not Jim's!
Comment by Charles Dusha on April 10, 2013 at 12:34am
Wayne, this is not just the volunteer fire service, it happens in paid departments, in Union locals (one Union local I know about had a treasurer in charge of the pension fund who took about 6 million dollars over about a ten year period, most of which was never recovered), city government employees, town clerks, etc, etc. And too many of them get away with it, and never get prosecuted. Don't disagree with anything else you say, but just pointing out this is not unique to the volunteer fire service, it is widespread and we all need to step up to the plate and deal with it appropriately. Covering it up does nobody any good, you are right!!

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