Nobody joins a volunteer fire department to be the bookkeeper.
To fight fires? Of course. Drive the fire trucks? Absolutely. Help people in trouble? You bet. Keep track of the finances? No, no thanks.
So, when you have somebody who’s good with numbers and willing to be in charge of the money, that’s a big win. The problem is that some people see this as an opportunity to steal.
Several times a year, you read about treasurers at volunteer fire departments being arrested or convicted on charges of looting cash from their organizations. Just last week, the treasurer of a downstate volunteer fire department pleaded guilty to pilfering more than $300,000 from his organization.
That sounds like a lot of money, but a few years ago the treasurer of a fire department on little Charlton, NY went to prison for stealing half a million dollars. Charlton Fire District’s pretty small, yet nobody noticed that hundreds of thousands of dollars went missing.
But like I said, you don’t join up to balance the checkbook, you join up to do the cool stuff. Let somebody else worry about paying the bills.
My old fire department had strict internal controls and an independent audit conducted every year by an outside firm. We couldn’t get reimbursed for a can of kidney beans without a receipt. Some of these fire departments are not so stringent — and when only one person is handling the books, anything can happen.
Fortunately, a lot of people who do this get caught, but you have to wonder how many get away with it.