Firefighter Investigated in String of Pennsylvania Arsons

March 26, 2009

Investigators are trying to determine if a firefighter charged with the latest fires in an arson-plagued suburb of southeast Pennsylvania could be responsible for any other unsolved blazes.

Robert Tracey Jr., of Coatesville, was charged Monday with lighting two small trash fires a few blocks apart in his hometown on Friday. The fires caused no injuries or significant damage.

Tracey, 37, volunteered at the city’s West End Fire Company for nearly 25 years, eventually attaining the unpaid position of assistant fire chief. He left that post last month to become a paid firefighter with the Coatesville Fire Department.

He was jailed in lieu of $2 million bail. His wife, Tracy Tracey, said he had acknowledged being in the area but denied setting the fires.

The West End Fire Company assistant chief, Robert Pacana, was dismayed by the charges.

“No words are sufficient at conveying the anger, frustration and disappointment that the officers and members of the West End Fire Company feel regarding these allegations,” Pacana said in a statement. “Should Mr. Tracey be found guilty of these charges in a court of law, he will have betrayed not only the trust of Company but also the sacred trust of the community that he served.”

Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are looking for any possible links between Tracey and other unsolved fires, according to assistant special agent Tom Stankiewicz. He said authorities seized clothing and lighters from Tracey’s home, but were awaiting further tests.

“Obviously, we did look into his background,” Stankiewicz said Tuesday, adding that neighbors spotted Tracey fleeing from the scene over the weekend. “We’re trying to ascertain the motive.”

Tracey’s mother was forced out of her home by a fire in December, but Coatesville spokeswoman Kristin Geiger said she didn’t know why he would be angry with the city.

“Arson itself is a difficult crime to understand,” Geiger said. “Our firefighters are just as hurt as our citizens.”

Coatesville has had 22 arsons this year and nearly 50 since February 2008. One blaze in January destroyed 15 houses, and a December fire killed an 83-year-old woman. There have been nearly 20 arsons just outside the city.

At least six suspects have been arrested in connection with the fires. One suspect had been rejected when he applied to be a firefighter in a surrounding township.

Coatesville is a distressed former steel town of 11,000 about 35 miles west of Philadelphia.

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