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Firefighting News Stories

Source:  DesMoines Register
By:  TIMOTHY MEINCH
May 16, 2012
    Tama firefighter, chief's son, accused of setting seven fires
    Deputies noticed a pattern happening earlier in the year.
    A Tama Fire Department volunteer, the son of the department chief, has been charged with seven counts of arson.

    Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera said Justin Anderson, 18, son of longtime Tama Fire Chief Rod Anderson, faces four charges of second-degree arson and three of third-degree arson for allegedly setting fires on rural properties from March to May.

    Damaged were three houses and a barn-type structure, all of which appeared to be vacant at the time of the fires, said Special Agent Justin Wade of the state fire marshal’s office. Three of the structures burned down. Authorities categorized the other fires as “grass fires.”

    Kucera said the investigation began in the middle of March when deputies first noticed signs of arson and later picked up on a pattern in frequency and location of fires.

    Neither the sheriff nor state fire marshal’s officials would release detailed information about what connected the arsons and led to Anderson’s arrest, because the investigation is still open.

    “You always look to see if there are other fires. That’s what we’re currently looking into,” Wade said.

    Kucera said he is asking the same question as many others: Why would a firefighter start a fire?

    “The firefighting community is a great, brave group of people. But once in a while, some people go astray and that’s unfortunate,” said Chris Van Vleet, president of the Iowa chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators. He said this is far from the first time a firefighter is alleged to have been involved in arson.

    Experts say motives generally can include revenge, a psychological disorder, a desire for attention or the pay-per-call system that pays volunteer fighters. “Sometimes firefighters just want to keep busy,” Van Vleet said.

    Alan Clark of Grinnell Mutual Insurance said he has investigated incidents in which a pay-per-call volunteer started fires to stay busy and make more money.

    “It sticks out because it goes against everything you’ve been taught,” said Clark, an assistant vice president. “That’s the last person we’d think of that we have to worry about.”

    At the Tama Fire Department, volunteers are paid a set fuel-reimbursement rate for each call they respond to, said City Clerk Judy Welch.

    Welch said Anderson officially joined the fire department on March 19, according to city documents, but he began volunteering closer to the beginning of the year. Court records show he does not have a criminal history other than speeding tickets.

    South Tama High School officials confirmed Anderson was a current student but declined to comment further.

    Anderson was being held Wednesday at the Tama County Jail with bail set at $50,000.




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