HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. - It’s been roughly two years since the Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department discovered that their treasurer, Norman Burgess, had taken nearly $140,000 of department money and used it for himself.
"He was a trusted member, a trusted family member,” said EMS Captain with the Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department Pamela Taylor. “It's a close bond, and to have this happen... it was hurtful.”
In a small town volunteer fire department, those you serve with become family. So when they learned one of their own was stealing their money, it meant more than the monetary loss.
"It was devastating on a personal level because he seemed like a very nice guy," said the department's assistant Chief Bryan Mason. "He was very likable and very friendly, and one of those guys who would do anything for you.”
For years, Burgess had taken out money from the account for personal expenses, leaving the department struggling to get by and in trouble with the IRS.
"We had applied for over a million dollars worth of grants, not knowing we were not eligible due to our tax situation,” Mason said.
"The finances got very difficult to keep up on," said Taylor. "Just regular supplies here at the station let alone some of the medical supplies we needed.”
Through it all, members didn’t stop serving the community. They began buying simple equipment with their own money
“My wife and I, probably every paycheck we were purchasing anything from toilet paper, paper towels, garbage can liners, brooms mops things of that nature,” Mason said.
The department doesn’t know if they’ll ever get some of the money back. However, they do know that their own hard work brought back morale, and kept the department going.
“That brought us back together, it really did," Taylor said of the selfless contributions. "That’s what family does. When we get down, we pick each other up and we keep going.”
Burgess pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced to 15 months in prison with two years of supervised release.
Taylor says the department has made a lot of changes since this incident. No longer is just one person in complete control of the money, and finances are regularly reviewed.