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Fire Companies Take Proactive Measures Against In-House Arsonists

 

Approximately 90 firefighters from at least a dozen fire companies across Bradford County participated in a program geared to prevent arson among fire company personnel that was held at Wysox Volunteer Fire Company (WVFC) on April 28. Hazleton state police officer and fire marshal Dave Klitsch guided the presentation, titled “Heroes to Zeroes,” which was sponsored by the Bradford County Fire Chief’s Association in response to a rash of intentionally set blazes across the commonwealth in recent years.

“There has been a rise in the state of firefighters starting fires,” said host chief Brett Keeney of WVFC, who suggested that, in most cases, the culprits are young, inexperienced, and bored.

“Many of those who cross the line and set a fire do so out of boredom, and they want to put their skills to use,” Klitsch agreed, noting that his many investigations into instances of fire company-borne arson have brought him to that conclusion. “The actual incidents of working fires are down,” he added, which has turned the focus of many fire departments to vehicle accidents and rescue operations.

Klitsch has conducted “Heroes to Zeroes” more than 300 times, including on April 21 for approximately 50 Sayre and Athens area firefighters. In addition to helping attendees understand the underlying causes, Klitsch highlighted ways to prevent such occurrences by being more careful about who is accepted as a new member. He also told firefighters in attendance that it is their responsibility to help flush out potential arsonists.

“The purpose (of the program) is to heighten awareness—to have them keep their ears and eyes open,” he explained prior to the event. “If your gut is telling you that something isn’t right, pass that along. We preach passing the information on to law enforcement.”

Warning signs may include a firefighter bragging about reaching the site of a fire first or being the first person to know the exact location of a fire. “Those are ‘red flags,’” Klitsch continued. “Many times, the firefighters try to distance themselves from the person, and that doesn’t solve the problem.”

WVFC president Jeff Benjamin related that officers and firefighting personnel from the participating companies told him afterwards that Klitsch’s presentation helped them to see the situation in a different light. He and other officers plan to implement changes in the enlistment of new recruits.

“(The presentation) opened a lot of peoples’ eyes as to what to look for, and I think we need to be a little more aware of our members,” Benjamin stated. “When you have people come in to fill out a volunteer application, you need to do a little more checking on them.”

Benjamin referenced a quote in an April 7 Rocket-Courier story about a firefighter from Franklin Township who allegedly set a number of fires in that area and attempted to set several more.

“It’s not just a black eye that their fire department takes on,” said Benjamin. “It’s something that affects everybody.” The Franklindale Fire Company, he added, was well-represented at the April 28 seminar.

 

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