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Background Checks Stalled as Firefighter Arrests Mount

Nine D.C. fire department employees came forward in response to an agency call to report undisclosed prior arrests and driving infractions ahead of a plan to conduct criminal-background checks on 1,800 first responders. But those background checks are now on hold as agency officials and the firefighters union wrangle over the manner in which they are conducted. Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe called for the criminal-background checks in order to identify those who failed to disclose prior charges amid a series of employee arrests that has now reached 14 since October. In response to the series of arrests, Chief Ellerbe issued a special order in January that gave employees 10 days to report any prior infractions from the past three years or face termination if infractions were later uncovered. “The majority of the members who self-reported disclosed traffic-related offenses that impacted their driver’s licenses,” said fire department spokesman, Tim Wilson. Chief Ellerbe’s special order did not specify how or when the background checks would be conducted. Edward Smith, president of the D.C. Fire Fighters Association, expressed concern over the type of information – including personal financial data – that could be unearthed during background checks and who would have access to it.

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