Insider Theft – Our Achilles Heel

A New Hampshire news outlet is doing an in depth analysis of the theft of over $200,000 by a local fire chief. The first of two articles was published this week by Seacoastonline.com looking into the theft by former Farmington fire chief Richard Fowler. Fowler is now serving 3 to 6 years in prison and has been ordered to pay restitution of $216,109.

The article does an excellent job of drilling down beneath the headlines to look at how organizations can become easy prey for the unscrupulous.

“Controlling behavior, not following protocol and people in positions not asking hard questions enabled the now imprisoned former Farmington fire chief to misappropriate more than $270,000 over a number of years that should have gone into town coffers.”

While the article does a great job of covering the Farmington case, it does not take the next step to consider the alarming frequency at which these kinds of cases occur in the fire service. The cases commonly fall into one of two categories: theft from volunteer fire organizations and theft from firefighter unions.

At the heart of both categories is a common denominator: misguided trust. It is ironic that one of the cornerstones of fire service culture can at the same time be our Achilles Heel.

The second installment from Seacoastonline.com will be published this Sunday and promises to look at steps organizations can take to protect themselves. In the fire service it has to start with a willingness to put proper financial controls in place and get over worries about “offending” or “overburdening” those with access to the funds. Accordingly those with access to the funds have to understand that the frequency at which these kinds of theft are occurring dictate that steps to be taken to protect the organization regardless of how honest and trustworthy they – themselves – are.

Remember the old Ronald Reagan quote: “trust but verify”.

Here is the Seacoastonline.com article.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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