New firefighters under fire

October 8, 2008 6:26:02 PM PDT
The Mt. Vernon Fire Department was in action today investigating a possible gas leak, but something else is burning up many members of the force. The city swore in its latest class of recruits last week, but the 8 men were hired before background checks were complete. It turns out half of them have criminal records.

Fire officials admit they were racing to fill open slots before the start of the new county academy training session, which began Monday.

Three of the recruits have felony arrests, including one who served two stints in jail for selling drugs. State law does not prohibit those with records from being hired. Officials acknowledge there are current firefighters with criminal backgrounds.

For now, many residents are willing to give a second chance. Privately, many current firefighters are furious better-qualified candidates were passed over, including a soldier who served a year and a half overseas. The commissioner stresses a one year probationary period does exist.

Another city official was less diplomatic, telling Eyewitness News that if they even blink the wrong way, they're gone.

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