Volunteer firefighter admits to stealing guns during calls

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Firefighters do important work. I don’t think anyone will dispute that in any way, shape, or form. While some think we can defund the police, no one talk about defunding firefighters.


And most firefighters in this country aren’t even paid. They’re volunteers, people who put themselves in harm’s way to help their community.

But, like any group, there are bad apples among their ranks. People like this:

A volunteer firefighter for the Cotter Fire Department has been arrested after he admits he took two guns from a house while fighting a fire last month. Nineteen-year-old William Hartwell Cooke allegedly put the guns in his turnouts while helping extinguish the blaze and then tried to sell them at a gun shop a couple of weeks later. Cooke is also charged for cash that went missing during the fire.

Last Friday, Cooke allegedly tried to sell the guns at a gun shop in Gassville. The staff believed the guns were stolen and called law enforcement. During questioning, Cooke admitted he took the guns during the fire, putting them in his turnouts and walking them to the fire truck. Law enforcement obtained surveillance video from the Cotter fire house showing Cooke unloading the guns from the fire truck.


The thing is, when your house is on fire, you’re not going to take the time to secure your possessions before calling the fire department. The communities trust these departments to do the right thing and focus on the task at hand.

And, to be clear, the vast majority of firefighters–volunteer or other–do precisely that.

Yet it only takes a few people like this to paint one of the noblest callings in which one can engage in a negative light.


Cooke is looking at doing a long time in prison for what he did, as he should. The theft of firearms is bad enough, but to take advantage of people at what was likely a very low and traumatic point like this is particularly despicable.

As he’s admitted to the theft, the only real point of contention now is just how long he’ll rot in prison for what he did.

When he gets out, he can give up fighting fires anymore. I doubt anyone will trust him with a garden hose at this point.

Granted, at this moment, that’s probably the least of Cooke’s worries.

So how can you prevent this kind of thing? Well, obviously, keeping your guns secured in a fire-proof gun safe is the best option. Not only will they be protected from fire but also unscrupulous firefighters. As these were long guns Cooke stole, they’re unlikely to have been needed for home defense, though I freely admit I could be wrong on that one. Still, securing your firearms is just smart.

As for preventing people like Cooke from becoming volunteer firefighters, well, that’s another matter entirely and I don’t know that there were any indications he couldn’t be trusted.

Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

Luckily, the weapons were recovered and Cooke will get to rethink his life choices, as he should.

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