Action 4 Investigates firefighters with criminal pasts
Tue, 23 Nov 2010 01:20:11 GMT —
They're expected to arrive in a flash, driving at lightning speed to respond to emergency calls.
A fire truck driver is responsible for driving a fire truck to and from the scene of a crisis.
It TMs considered a promotion from firefighter, meaning more money and more responsibility.
But court records reveal a number of local fire drivers with multiple traffic violations.
Some even had criminal histories, the most common offense was driving while intoxicated.
In McAllen, two fire drivers continue working after being charged with DWI.
In Brownsville, three fire truck operators with DWI histories are still employed.
One fire truck operator has two DWI charges.
In Harlingen, four fire drivers have DWI charges.
One has three DWI charges, coupled with speeding and reckless driving.
Another has two DWI charges, one of them while driving with a child under 15 years old.
Representatives from all three cities said the charges happened before the current fire chiefs were in place.
They all said they weren TMt aware of all the charges, and civil service law won TMt allow them to do anything about it now.
There's a process in civil service, and I have to follow the civil service, said Brownsville Fire Chief Lenny Perez.
Called complicated by some, civil service law is a state law protecting firefighters and police officers.
It's so complicated that I've read it three times, and I'm not sure if I can explain it to you, said McAllen Assistant City Attorney Gary Henrichson.
Under the law, once a fire or police chief discovers an employee is charged with a crime, he or she has 180 days to take action. That action can be appealed.
"The actual firefighter or police personnel can appeal that decision to the civil service commission," said Harlingen City Attorney Roxann Cotroneo.Brownsville Fire Chief Lenny Perez agreed.
So where I may decide to go one route, they may decide to put them back on duty, Chief Perez said. "So it's not the end of it, just because I made the decision."
Difficulties like these are what frustrate people like Linda Perez. She lost her leg after a drunk driver hit her on her motorcycle.
There's still unfortunately a big financial burden on me that will continue, because every time I need a new leg, said Perez.
Perez said she believes drunk driving should be punished to the maximum, especially for firefighters who are often viewed as community role models. They're somebody that you look up to just like the police, said Perez.
It TMs been nearly a decade since Perez TMs accident.
In that time, city leaders agree the attitude towards driving drunk has changed.
"I think the awareness of DWI and the severity that it can cause and impact people's lives certainly has been broadened, said Cotroneo.
And people have a greater understanding."
In all, the cities of Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen said if a fire driver was to get a DWI today, they would work towards the most severe punishment, within their legal limit.