updated 3/11/2011 7:33:14 PM ET 2011-03-12T00:33:14

Three cleanup workers who were hailed as heroes after finding a live bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade 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.

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

"For the first two days, basically all we did was get chewed out," worker Mark Steiner told Spokane television station KHQ. "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.

Stacey Burke, a spokeswoman for Labor Ready, said the three lost their jobs only because most of the company's positions are temporary. "They can still find employment through us," Burke said, and they have been.

This was the first time that Labor Ready workers had to deal with a live bomb in Spokane, Burke said.

Kevin Twohig, head of the public facilities district, told The Spokesman-Review that the three men "we're messing around with the bomb."

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

Burke said the men should not have picked up the backpack.

"I would not wish for them to pick up a backpack that has a bomb in it," she said. "I'm sure they didn't know what it was."

The identities of the men were withheld until a 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.

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Information from: KHQ-TV, http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3082888/

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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