Local fire chief comments on new bill prohibiting sex offenders from becoming firefighters

Local News

A firefighter is a person people trust, but did you know many departments aren’t required to conduct in-depth background checks?  One Warren County lawmaker is trying to change that. 

In many communities, it’s up to the fire departments to determine who gets to be a firefighter, even if that person is a convicted sex offender.  Every volunteer fire department member submits a statement indicating they’ve never committed arson. 

But now, State Representative Kathy Rapp is pushing a bill saying that policy needs to cover another crucial concern.  “This is the wording for the amendment that they will also have to sign that they have never committed a sexual act under tier one, two or three.” 

Essentially, the legislation would keep sexual predators from serving on fire departments.  The bill is in response to former Spartansburg Fire Chief Roger Gilbert, Jr. who stepped down once his sex offender status gained national attention.

Rapp says, “Just as there’s consequences long-term, even after he served his time, the child who’s now an adult is still suffering consequences too.”

And even for those communities that might be struggling to recruit volunteers, West Ridge Fire Department Chief Dan Ouellet says that’s no reason to lower the standard.  “Once you start dropping your standards on the caliber of applicant that you have, it just goes downhill from there.”

Ouellet says the legislation is long overdue.      He tells us his department has been performing in-depth background checks for several years. “A firefighter is someone that’s looked upon as being trustworthy and we are doing our best to ensure that each firefighter that may potentially enter someone’s home or their property is an upstanding citizen.”

Rapp says she’s already presented the bill.  It’s currently in front of the Veteran’s Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. 

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