BARTOW, Fla. — He was a Polk County firefighter hired to save lives.

But when the county discovered Cody Wesling’s affiliation with a local gang following a federal indictment charging him in the killing of a rival gang leader, his employment was immediately terminated.

“It was a total shock,” said Deputy County Manager Joe Halman, who oversees public safety for Polk County. “He was never on the radar. He was what you’d consider to be a model employee.”

Halman says while the news of one of their own firefighters allegedly mixed up in a gang murder plot was a wake-up call for the county, plans were already in the works to enhance background checks for their firefighters.

“They are in and out of houses, businesses and our paramedics, they’re dispensing drugs,” said Halman. “We just need to make sure we have the best of the best.”

Previously, firefighters in Polk County would undergo background checks by having their names and driver’s license information run through criminal databases. Now the county is enlisting the help of Polk County sheriff’s detectives to dig much deeper.

“We are talking with neighbors, getting the police reports from wherever you live to find out what kind of encounters they’ve had with you,” says Halman.

The county says when Wesling, a k a “Little Savage,” was hired to work as a firefighter in Lake Wales his background check came up clean. The thought is now, had the county looked closer, they may have uncovered telling information.

“If we had talked to the neighbors, and they told us 'Little Savage' hangs out with a bunch of gang bangers, if we had known that we wouldn’t have hired him.”

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