Lack of background checks should be corrected



August 9, 2012  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.


Recently, an on-call Northville firefighter was cited by police for the unauthorized use of emergency lights on his personal vehicle and impersonation of a police officer

The man actually performed a traffic stop of a Northville woman and inferred he was an undercover police officer. When collecting details for the story about the incident, our reporter asked what he thought was a logical question: “Are background checks performed on these on-call firefighters?”

Imagine his surprise, and ours, when the answer was no.

No background checks, unlike professionally staffed, full time fire departments where these men and women are conscientiously vetted, the City of Northville, which serves the City of Plymouth, too, does not even perform a cursory background check of the on-call firefighters sent into residents’ homes and businesses.

People are usually at their worst emotionally and are most vulnerable at any kind of emergency situation, fire or medical, in which the fire department would have to be called, but to realize that in the cities of Northville or Plymouth, the person running through your home with a hose or a fire ax might be just as interested in your possessions as your need for help seems inappropriate at best. At its worst, it is a sanctioned invasion and abetted victimization. We strongly believe that residents seeking emergency help deserve to know that those who respond to that plea are honest, trustworthy, trained professionals. Without exception.

We’re sure that the majority of the men who sign on for the on-call firefighter status are just that, decent people taking on a sometimes dangerous job so to make some extra money. They can continue at their usual jobs and respond to a fire emergency when they receive the call, drive to the station nearest the incident, suit up, board the fire truck and ride to the scene where they attempt to put out the fire, save the building, get Fluffy out of the tree or extricate Jimmy’s head from the stairway banister. At $26 or so an hour, it isn’t a bad way to make some extra money and many of these guys really are motivated by a sense of responsibility for their community and a desire to help. They usually can help, too, unless, of course, it is a real life or death emergency, a major crisis or serious incident or injury. Then they hope it isn’t too late, call in the professionals through mutual aid, usually from Northville Township, and get out of the way, still at $26 an hour.

But, this Northville incident is proof that there are those who may not be as pure of heart as others.

The on-call firefighter in the Northville situation is also an auxiliary police officer in Livonia and applied to be a City of Northville auxiliary police officer. That application actually led police to his identity when a real police sergeant matched the description of the suspect in the unauthorized traffic stop to an auxiliary applicant he remembered.

We don’t know that the man charged is a bad guy. He may be operating from the purest of motives and perhaps he really did think the woman who came back to her home to check her garage door looked like a suspicious character casing the neighborhood for her next cat-burglar break-in.

The fact is, he may have even come through a background check without any problem. But no such investigation was done on him or any of the other on-call firefighters who now comprise the majority of first responders from the fire department serving the cities of Plymouth and Northville.

We’d very much like to see that changed. We’d like to know that the guy helping get Fluffy out of the tree isn’t on the Humane Society’s Most Wanted list of animal abusers. We’d like to be sure that the smiling firefighter helping get Jimmy loose from the banister isn’t a convicted pedophile and we’d like to be confident that the men searching our home for the source of smoke hasn’t done time for home invasion and robbery and isn’t going to sell a list of valuables and access points of our home to past associates.

We would almost bet that every one of the people currently on the on-call roster would pass such a background investigation without any question.

But we, and every other resident, deserve to know for sure.

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