When you call 911 in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania there’s a good chance Roger Gilbert Jr will be coming to help you. As we first reported Saturday, Gilbert is starting his second term as chief of the Spartansburg Volunteer Fire Department. Gilbert is also a convicted felon. He received a ten-year-sentence for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (IDSI). The victim was a four-year-old girl.
Put “fire chief” in Google right now and you’ll see Chief Gilbert’s image at the top of the page. The picture comes courtesy his profile on the Pennsylvania State Police Megan’s Law database. Whether we like it or not, this is the current face of the U.S. fire service, leaving people all over the world wondering how this is possible.
Looking at the membership standards printed on the website for Spartansburg VFD (the Facebook page went down Saturday shortly after the story broke) you also have to be wondering how this can be:
So, according to this department, “satisfactory information” on a criminal background check now includes a conviction of sexually violating a four-year-old girl. If child rape is allowed, please tell me what crimes, if any, would prevent you from joining Spartansburg VFD.
I’m fully aware that in many communities volunteer staffing is at a crisis level and increased recruitment efforts are underway around the country. Pennsylvania State Senator Dan Laughlin, who represents a neighboring district, stirred controversy last week – prior to this story coming out – when he suggested putting former inmates to work at the local firehouse to deal with the volunteer crisis. But even Laughlin has higher standards than Spartansburg:
“We’re not suggesting, even for a little bit, that we would have, like, child molesters going into your home. That was never the intention,” said Sen. Dan. Laughlin, R-Erie. Laughlin’s proposal would train non-violent offenders to become volunteer firefighters after their release from prison. He said it could lower recidivism while also helping fill a void of firefighters.
As for Chief Gilbert, he told the Corry Journal he has changed his life for the better:
“That was 20 years ago,” Gilbert said. “You know, the story you are telling kids is once you make mistake, you will be punished for the rest of your life. I’ve changed my life for the better. Every day I get up and try to do good.”
Actually the crime was a little more than 17-years-ago, making the victim now at least 21-years-old. The victim’s mother is against Gilbert being in a position where he would interact with children. While many in Spartansburg agree with her, Mayor Ann Louise Wagner and others in the community support the fire department in continuing to stick with Gilbert as their chief.
Being chief may be good for Roger Gilbert but it sure is a terrible look for the fire service.
“You shouldn’t have sex offenders with little children if that’s what they were accused of. That’s not right. They have them feelings,” said Robert Daly, a Corry resident.
Legally there’s nothing preventing a sex offender from becoming fire chief. That’s up to the individual communities to decide.
But some community members are saying Gilbert served his time and has done whatever he can to do good since getting out.
They tell us he’s a changed man and a good chief.
“He goes to our church and he is trying his best to turn everything around for his life because he knows what happened is wrong,” said Allan Fisher, a Spartansburg resident.