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Questions raised about West Virginia fire chief's felony sex conviction

HUNDRED, W.Va. (AP) — Officials in a West Virginia town are trying to determine whether the chief of a volunteer fire department can keep his job after an anonymous letter was circulated complaining that a 1997 felony sex conviction should prohibit him from serving in the role.

Hundred Mayor Chip Goff called the letter that began circulating in the town last week a "vindictive way to make (the chief) look bad," WBOY-TV reported.

Goff said officials knew about Volunteer Fire Chief Tom Powell's conviction and said that he had joined the volunteer fire department with permission from the Fire Marshal's office. According to the West Virginia sex offender registry, Powell was convicted of five counts of second-degree sexual assault-contact in the state of Wyoming and served approximately seven years in a correctional facility.

At issue is a state law prohibiting convicted felons from being employed by emergency service organizations. Officials said that since the department is volunteer, it's unclear if the law applies.

Powell, who has been with the department since 2008, announced on March 24 he would step down.

"For those of you that were so concerned about my past, I hope you step up and fill the gap," he said in the announcement.

The next day, Goff said the town hadn't accepted Powell's resignation and would be working with the West Virginia Fire Marshal's office and its own legal counsel to see how or if Powell can remain in his position.

"During Tom's years of service, we haven't had one complaint, not one concern, not one incident about him," Goff said. "Tom has shown dedication, passion, and pure good intentions in treating those in need of aid from the fire department."

Goff said an interim fire chief has been appointed until the situation is resolved.

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