After receiving tips from viewers, ABC27 started looking into local fire departments and found some had registered sex offenders on the roster. ABC27’s investigation led to resignations. Since the registered sex offenders are no longer volunteer firefighters, ABC27 decided to blur their faces in the video and redact their names.
ABC27 Investigator Kendra Nichols found two local fire departments with registered sex offenders, Londonderry Fire Company near Middletown and Citizens Fire Company of Highspire. At the time of the investigation, both registered sex offenders had the fire department addresses listed on the Megan’s Law website as places of employment.
ABC27 told the Londonderry Fire Company the results of the search and it took action.
“I personally called him after the board was made aware of it. We gave him the option to resign or we would suspend his membership,” said Kim Dodson, president of Londonderry Fire Company.
He resigned from the fire department on Oct. 3. Londonderry Fire Company is in the process of changing its policy and will require applicants to submit a background check clearance with their applications.
“We are currently in the process of running criminal background checks on them,” Dodson said. “All the applications that we now will accept must have a background check attached to them which includes a criminal background and a child abuse clearance before we even consider anyone for membership.”
Citizens Fire company in Highspire requires background checks for all applicants and, as of May 2016, its regulations state “no individual who has been convicted of or pled guilty to a sexual offense shall be eligible for membership.” It is unclear whether the department has conducted background checks on its members who joined the department prior to the background check policy being adopted.
However, during ABC27’s investigation, we learned the fire department and Highspire Borough Council were aware of one fire department member’s Megan’s Law status. The member was promoted to a higher position after the adoption of the policy prohibiting membership to anyone convicted of a sexual offense. In fact, the council unanimously approved his promotion.
Highspire Council President Kay Sutch refused to answer questions. When ABC27 Investigator Kendra Nichols asked Sutch about the policy, Sutch repeatedly answered “no comment”.
Highspire Borough Manager John McHale offered an explanation, saying the rules were adopted in 2016.
“He was a member of the fire department before those rules were written,” McHale said.
“So he is grandfathered in as a sexual offender?” Nichols asked.
“These are the rules of the fire company, not the rules of the borough,” McHale said.
“Borough council not only approved him but promoted him to a deputy chief … voted unanimously to promote him knowing that he is a sex offender,” Nichols said.
“They appointed him as fire chief. He is qualified to be fire chief. He follows the rules and guidelines,” McHale said.
That volunteer firefighter resigned from the department Nov. 1. He is suing the Pennsylvania State Police, seeking removal of his name from the Megan’s Law registration, saying the terms of his 1998 plea agreement required that he register only 10 years. In his court filings, he insists he would not have pleaded guilty if the conditions included lifetime registration as a sex offender.
The current Pennsylvania law requires his lifetime registration. That law was passed 14 years after he entered into the plea agreement.