It is always disappointing to see a headline about a firefighter stealing money. It doesn’t mean all firefighters steal, but just like any other profession, there are a few bad eggs and the fire service is no exception.
Firefighters, police officers, and teachers seem to get the biggest headlines when we do something wrong. If we steal, drink too much or get in a fight, we are guaranteed to make the front page. Some people don’t think it is fair that we get that publicity but there is a very good reason why it happens.
Firefighters and police by virtue of our profession are given a great amount of trust by the public. We are allowed into people’s homes when bad things happen and we are trusted with just about anything they own. Since we are given that trust, when we do something wrong, it makes the headlines. It is fair and if we do something to lose that trust, we deserve to be on the front page. If you want to be on the front page for every good thing you do, you can’t complain when you get there for doing something bad.
One of the most publicized and frequent ways firefighters steal is from ourselves. If you search for firefighters stealing, you will find firefighters that have stolen from benevolent funds, pension funds and from other charitable functions sponsored by the fire department. Sometimes it is small amounts, but a lot of times it is thousands of dollars and it usually occurs over several years. A little bit here and a little bit there and the next thing you know it $10,000.
Just like the public trusts us, there is a lot of trust among firefighters. Often when we are looking for treasurer or trustee, we are glad when someone volunteers and we all vote for them. Once we have someone to take responsibility for a position, we let them go. The other option is to take over and do it ourselves. Even when someone doesn’t seem to be a doing a good job, we leave them in these positions and rarely ask questions, especially on issues that deal with honesty.
Sometimes those guys that volunteer for these positions decide that they deserve a little something for their time. Maybe that Union officer thinks he really does deserve that free trip to the national convention. When someone does go to a convention or seminar, make sure they are going for the right reason. And as silly as it may sound, we make sure they are attending the event. It raises a few questions when you send a group of people to Las Vegas and they don’t really know anything about what happened at the convention.
That trust we have in each other needs to end when it comes to money. Treasurer’s reports and annual audits need to be prepared, reviewed and approved. It is the responsibility of each of us to take care of these funds. Whether it is our own pension fund or a charity, we are collecting money for.
When we don’t ask questions, we make it easy for firefighters to steal. You must ask the tough questions and keep asking until you get the right answers. Annual audits and reports are the only way to ensure your money is being taken care of. You owe it to your department and all those that contribute to use those funds correctly. Don’t turn your back or let peer pressure keep you from getting the answers to your questions.
By John Morse
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