Wednesday, January 7, 2009

News: Firefighter charged Tuesday with three counts of second-degree commercial burglary.

Fireman charged in theft of station funds
Chief: Team feels violated after money went missing


It was the lack of integrity, not the wad of bills stolen from two fire stations, that made Crest Forest Fire Protection District firefighters feel violated.

One of their own, 20-year-old Burl Lee Baxter, was charged Tuesday with three counts of second-degree commercial burglary.

The charges stem from thefts at two fire stations and the Lake Arrowhead Deli.

"The guys are like a team, and they hate to see a guy go bad," said Chief Michael Sherman. "Like with any theft or burglary, they feel violated. They feel violated because someone inside their own organization was untrustable."

Baxter, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, had worked for the district as a paid-call firefighter for 13 months before his arrest Saturday at one of the district's seven stations.

Firefighters first noticed money missing from several boxes set out on behalf of children's fundraising efforts. A memo even went out asking whomever had shortchanged the candy box to pony up the dough.

That's when they realized "it wasn't down a dollar or two, it was down quite a bit," Sherman said. "We started putting two and two together and called the Sheriff's Department. Everything pointed to this one individual."

Baxter had aroused suspicion because he had been spotted in areas of the fire stations where he wasn't supposed to be. He had also slept in an office at a fire station one night, and cash was discovered missing from that room the next day, officials said.

Paid-call firefighters work as needed and are bound by more restrictions than full-time career firemen. There are 45 paid-call firefighters and 27 career firefighters in the district.

Before being hired, Baxter had to undergo a background check, including his past employment. He is not expected to return to work for the fire district.

"We don't tolerate dishonesty. We don't tolerate that at all," Sherman said. "Especially being one of our guys."

Source: http://www.sbsun.com Stacia Glenn, Staff Writer- Link
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