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Firefighter background checks

Published (3/4/2010)
By Mike Cook
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A person dialing 911 assumes that responding emergency personnel are properly trained and are upstanding citizens.

Sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), HF3130 would authorize fire departments to run criminal background checks on current employees no more than once per year. Now, checks can only be run on applicants.

Jerry Streich, chief of the Centennial Fire District, said that when he took over in 2008, he did not know the personnel, and later found out about one employee’s criminal history.

“I was concerned that that individual was not meeting, or was not fitting, the core values or mission of the district in which I serve,” he said. “I tried to collect that data, and I was unable to because the data requires consent of the individual.”

After several months of working on the issue, the employee ended up murdering his wife before committing suicide.

“This would not have halted this incident from occurring, but it would have allowed me, in the interest of public safety, to look at this individual and see if that’s the type of individual I want responding to Mrs. Citizen with the sore arm or Mr. Citizen who’s calling us to respond to protect their property and life,” Streich said.

The information would be considered private data and handled as any other such data.

Lesch noted that some larger departments are represented by unions, so a background check timeline would have to be negotiated.

Approved Feb. 26 by the House Crime Victims/Criminal Records Division, the bill awaits action by the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee. A companion, SF2363, sponsored by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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