Some Volunteer Firefighters Have Criminal Records

By Dina Kaplan

(LOUISVILLE, June 24th, 2004, 12:30 p.m.) -- A WAVE 3 investigation has revealed that several firefighters at suburban fire districts in the city have criminal records. There is no set policy for dealing with such firefighters or a procedure for conducting criminal background checks. WAVE 3's Dina Kaplan reports.

In the past few years, the Dixie Suburban fire district has had five volunteer firefighters with criminal records.

Their job is to save lives, and in the line of duty, firefighters have complete access to burning homes. So Barbara Thompson was disturbed to find out that five firefighters in a 30-person fire district have criminal backgrounds. "I want them to have a clean record when they enter my home," she says.

Dixie Suburban Firefighter David Whitlock stole thousands of dollars of medical equipment from ambulances and brought it to the fire station. Whitlock was suspended.

Dixie Suburban Fire Chief Tim Robbins admits "it's embarrassing."

During our investigation, we discovered that volunteer firefighter Michael Alcorn was convicted of raping and sodomizing a nine-year-old girl.

Alcorn has resigned.

"Its the kind of thing that's shocking to find out about, but we had no idea," Robbins says.

In Louisville, it's against policy for a convicted felon to become a firefighter. But misdemeanors are handled on a case by case basis. Still with Dixie Suburban, however, is Darrell Ellis, who was reinstated last month after not paying child support. It also came to light that Ellis has a number of driving violations.

"He's got a lot of things on his record that have to do with driving, and we've told him 'sorry, you cannot drive a fire apparatus."

Darrell's cousin, Mike Ellis, has been convicted of aggravated assault and spouse abuse, but he's still fighting fires, along with Timothy Williamson, who is charged with menacing and interfering with an arrest. He's also had a traffic violation -- disregarding a stop sign.

Chief Robbins says that having five firefighters with criminal records over the course of five years is "probably pretty typical."

In Jeffersontown, an underage firefighter was charged with holding an open container of alcohol. In Okolona, Chief Rich Carlson kept a firefighter charged with spousal abuse on the job. "It's a really, really difficult call ... when somebody has a criminal problem."

At suburban fire districts, that call is made by fire chiefs and trustees. "There really isn't any standard out there," Carlson says.

But sometimes chiefs don't know about criminal records. Most suburban fire districts only do criminal checks on applicants. Many chiefs we spoke with said they don't have the time or the resources for annual checks. "What we're trying to do is have that trusting of our people."

But after all the legal trouble at Dixie Suburban taking up so much time at trustee meetings, Chief Robbins is now considering yearly checks on firefighters' criminal records.

But suburban fire districts only have the authority to use, a service that only checks criminal records in Kentucky. If someone was convicted of a crime in another state, their record wouldn't turn up using this service.

Online Reporter: Dina Kaplan

Online Producer: Michael Dever