North Carolina County to Adopt Firefighter Background Checks for the First Time Ever

By Michael Klazema on 1/14/2015

We may have recently celebrated the arrival of 2015, but in Cashiers, North Carolina, the local fire department is still operating in much the same way it was when it was founded all the way back in 1967. For instance, the Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department, despite being nearly 48 years old, has never run background checks on its firefighters. Instead, the department his relied on local rumors and chatter to decide which citizens are and are not fit to take on the firefighting responsibility.

In the old days, a system like this might have been just fine, especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and where everyone interacts with each other on a daily basis. Nowadays, though, relying on what might as well be gossip to choose a staff is becoming less acceptable and not prudent. This is especially true for firefighting, where the responsibilities and pressures are incredibly high.

The leaders of the Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department, it seems, are in agreement on that point. The fire chief, who is responsible for overseeing the 152 members of the department, as well as the 135 square miles they help protect, has gone on record saying that the department's old way of doing things no longer works in the modern age. While the honor system and the local rumor mill may have once done well to separate the good volunteers from the untrustworthy ones, there's a lot more grey area nowadays.

With that in mind, the Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department is going to take 2015 to turn over a new leaf. For the first time, the department will require all volunteers to submit to actual screenings. These screenings include criminal background checks, as well as well as random drug tests. The new checks will begin this month and may be updated on an annual basis.

For an entity that has spent half a decade doing things a different way, the change to actual background screenings could be jarring. However, the fire chief of the Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department is committed to running the department "like a business," and of course, there are few businesses these days that don't run background checks on their workers. Even most volunteers have to submit to background screenings nowadays.

The new background check policy is a step in the right direction for a small town fire department that risked becoming decrepit and obsolete before. It is likely that there will be some growing pains as the department adds background checks into its volunteer vetting process. Usually, new policies like these lead to at least a few protests from long-standing volunteers. However, the new policy will also help to make the fire department a better and safer entity, which, for a public safety service, is obviously hugely important.


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