WILKES-BARRE — A Back Mountain volunteer fire company was negligent for allowing one of its officers to engage in sexual relations with a junior firefighter who should not have been permitted to join, a suit alleges.
The suit against the Trucksville Volunteer Fire Department and Lt. Joshua James Ralston, 21, was filed on behalf of a minor and the minor’s mother by attorneys Michael A. Lombardo III and Michelle M. Quinn of Hourigan, Kluger and Quinn.
It alleges the department permitted the minor to join the junior firefighter program in July 2016, one year before the minor’s 14th birthday, when minors are eligible to join.
Soon thereafter, Ralston “groomed” the minor by putting his contact information into the minor’s cell phone and sending sexually explicit messages on a social media app before engaging in sexual encounters, the suit alleges.
A message left for Fire Chief Brian Johnson at the fire department was not returned Thursday.
Dallas Township police charged Ralston in August with having a sexual relationship with the minor.
Ralston pleaded guilty to two felony counts of statutory sexual assault and was sentenced Feb. 8 by Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas to 11 months to 23 months in the county correctional facility, followed by two years on probation. An evaluation by the state Sexual Offenders Assessment Board was not required due to the grading of the statutory sexual assault.
The junior program was coordinated by the fire department without oversight, procedures and safeguards to protect participating minors, and permitted an officer in the fire department, Ralston, to “groom” the minor he admitted to sexually assaulting, the suit says.
The suit alleges the fire department’s environment was a “boys’ club,” comprised of younger men who shared interest in sexual conquests of younger females.
According to the fire department’s website, the junior membership program is open to anyone who is at least 14 years old, and a criminal background and child abuse check are required if older than 18.