Spokane,Washington -- Three cleanup workers who were hailed as heroes after finding a live bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane said they later lost their jobs after supervisors questioned their handling of the situation.

The men were employed by Labor Ready and working under contract for the Spokane Public Facilities District when they found a backpack containing the bomb about an hour before the scheduled start of the Jan. 17 parade.

They alerted police, who were able to defuse the bomb.

"For the first two days, basically all we did was get chewed out," worker Mark Steiner told KHQ of Spokane. "We did this wrong. We did that wrong. I don't know what you consider calling 911 wrong after two minutes after we found it."

Steiner, Brandon Klaus and Sherman Welpton had been hired to perform cleanup work during the parade and noticed the backpack on an outdoor bench.

Officials for Labor Ready did not immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Kevin Twohig, head of the public facilities district, said the three men were not punished by the district.

"They kept the incident from evolving into something much more dangerous," Twohig told The Spokesman-Review.

But he said there was concern "they were messing around with the bomb."

"I think they put themselves at more risk than they needed," Twohig said.

The identities of the men were withheld until suspect, Kevin William Harpham, 36, was arrested Wednesday near Addy.

Steiner told KHQ the three men were not trained to deal with suspicious packages.

"We'd go out, and we'd clean up parking lots," he said. "Who knows what happens when you see a backpack sitting there? The first reaction is to pick it up and that's what we did, and we opened it, saw wires sticking out of it and called police."

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner have praised the three workers in speeches for being vigilant.


Information from: KHQ-TV