Sparks are flying over a Hells Angel with a criminal past who wants to be a volunteer firefighter in Airway Heights.
Phillip J. Ellsworth wants to drive fire trucks and respond to medical emergencies, Airway Heights Administrator Mike Patterson said Thursday.
Ellsworth said he’s been told he’s already part of the 24-member department, and is just waiting for the next fire.
“Hell, I’m already a firefighter,” said Ellsworth, who applied last summer. “They even gave me a badge, and I’ve suited up.”
But the city administrator said Ellsworth is merely an applicant whose candidacy is creating a public relations nightmare.
“This issue will be resolved next week,” Patterson said.
Police Chief Jim Nettles and Fire Chief Toby Combs sharply disagree on whether Ellsworth should join the fire department. Neither chief would talk after spending most of Thursday meeting about the issue.
Airway Heights Mayor Don Harmon was being treated for a broken leg, and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Patterson said the mayor “wants to get all the facts” before he makes a decision.
Ellsworth, 47, is a member of the Spokane chapter of the Hells Angels.
Before moving to Spokane, he belonged to the motorcycle group in Alaska, where he was convicted in 1978 of assaulting a federal police officer.
“I underwent two years of stress counseling for that, and that problem is behind me now,” the Vietnam veteran said.
Patterson said the city’s standards for volunteer firefighters “only say you have to have a good driving record” and don’t block felons from fighting fires.
Ellsworth owns towing and paving companies, and lives a block outside the Airway Heights city limits.
“I believe the police chief has a problem with me,” said Ellsworth, who met Nettles for the first time on Thursday. “I get along with the other people out here just fine.”
The longtime biker says he even shaved his beard so he could wear a firefighter’s breathing apparatus.
Now, he’s eager to learn mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and other first-aid techniques.
If the city takes his firefighter’s badge away now, Ellsworth said that will be discriminatory.
“I want to give something back to my community,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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