In what can only be described as an epidemic, yet another volunteer fire company has been victimized by a trusted insider who steals large sums of money.
The former treasurer of the Steelton Volunteer Fire Company, in Steelton, Pennsylvania, is accused of stealing $55,000 over the past three years. This is the 53rd case in my nationwide database where a volunteer fire department official (usually a treasurer, president, or chief), has taken fire company funds since 2008.
As unsettling as the numbers may be, the reality is that many more cases are going upreported by fire departments that do not want the publicity that accompanies the arrest of a high ranking official.
Here a link to the last case. I would be remiss to leave the impression that such theft is limited to the volunteer fire service. There have also been a number of firefighter unions that have been ripped off by their officials. One distinction – the union theft cases usually involve smaller sums of money.
Fundamentally, the problem is one of human nature: some people are very trusting of others, particularly their co-workers – and that includes most firefighters. Other people can’t seem to recognize the difference between someone else’s property and their own. Such thieves are the minority in the fire service – but without proper controls in our organizations, the trusting nature of firefighters makes us easy pray. All organizations (volunteer and career) need to have financial checks and balances, as well as routine audits.