Volunteer firefighters can be an important part of any small-town fire department. However, within the past year, several volunteers in Louisiana have been arrested for setting fire to property they were trained to protect.
Chief of arson investigations Marc Reech, with the state Fire Marshal’s office in Baton Rouge, said arson arrests, especially the arrests of firefighters purposely setting the fires, is more common than some people may think.
“Firefighters have been arrested throughout the state,” Reech said.
Recently, three volunteer firefighters from the Farmerville Fire Department were arrested for setting numerous fires throughout the parish over an eight-month period. Most notably, Jason Fontenot, a volunteer firefighter with the Collinston Fire Department, set fire to Collinston Elementary School in April 2006 and was subsequently arrested and charged.
Reech said more than a dozen firefighters were arrested in the past year for setting blazes most of them volunteers.
“In my recollection, we have only arrested one that was a paid firefighter recently,” Reech said. “A majority of the cases have involved a volunteer, usually a younger one.”
Fontenot was 23 at the time of his arrest, while all the Farmerville firefighters were under age 23.
“It’s an adrenaline rush, a thrill,” Reech said. “They want to fight fires so bad but in these smaller places, there usually aren’t a lot.
“So, how do they solve that problem? Start their own,” Reech said.
Union Parish Sheriff Bob Buckley said there are more arrests possible from Farmerville, and Reech said the investigators are currently working on another case in a different parish.
Reech said it is not just firefighters setting the blazes, but lawyers, doctors and police chiefs.
“We don’t keep track of what profession everyone is that sets a fire,” he said. “They’re all arsonists to me.”
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