- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

The news that a firefighter with two drug-related arrests has returned to active duty is distressing. Firefighters have a critical responsibility, and their ability to perform their job — not to mention the ability of the public to trust them to do so — is tremendously important. After all, the lives of both the public and the firefighters themselves are at risk. That’s why the decision to allow Kevin E. Steve, who was twice arrested last year for drug possession, to return to service at a firehouse in Northwest earlier this month raises some questions. Steve has lost that trust, and his return to service seems premature, at best.

Steve’s first arrest was in June, and he pleaded guilty to charges of drug possession with intent to distribute. His sentence included a two-year probation. After his second arrest, a mere two months after his first, Steve agreed to enter a drug-treatment program and the felony charges of intent to distribute were dropped. Although the misdemeanor charges were also dropped, this behavior is at odds with the kind of professional and ethical conduct that should be required of D.C. firefighters.

In 2002, D.C. Firefighters Association President Ray Sneed, criticizing the inadequate punishment given to a cadet involved in criminal activity, said that “not only do you have to be trained to [be a firefighter], you have to have the integrity to go in and out of people’s homes.”

Steve entered the D.C. Fire Department through the troubled cadet program, a federally funded initiative designed to assist underprivileged youth to become firefighters. Another graduate of the troubled cadet program, Adam I. Neal, was charged recently with murder in the deaths of 76-year-old Mary Francis McDonald and 73-year-old Madeline Lovelace Thompson in a flower shop in 2003. Both he and Steve were members of the 2001 class that was marred by pervasive violence and generally criticized for graduating candidates who were unqualified to be full-time firefighters.

A cadet program should seek out high achievers: young men and women who have distinguished themselves as mature and hardworking with the potential to be upstanding firefighters. While a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the entire initiative, it has now become obvious that management of the program needs revamping. The cadet program should be something students strive for, not fall back on — the responsibilities of a firefighter are too demanding. Poor management of the program puts life and limb at risk.

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