DANVILLE — Three volunteer members of the Boyle County Fire Department have been suspended after they confessed to setting possibly more than a dozen fires of barns, unoccupied houses and hay bales, Chief Donnie Sexton said.
In addition, a former member of the department who had been dismissed as the result of a personnel action and a juvenile who was part of an "Explorer" training program also participated in setting fires, Sexton said. The juvenile has been suspended from that program.
No one was hurt in any of the eight fires in Boyle County or the five fires in neighboring Marion County, Sexton said during a Wednesday press conference. (Boyle County has a mutual aid agreement with Marion County to respond to fires there, particularly in the Gravel Switch area.) All the fires occurred within the past 18 months; most happened in the late evening.
The names of the suspects were not released Wednesday. Evidence will be presented to a Boyle County grand jury.
"The staff at Boyle County Fire Department doesn't tolerate this sort of thing," Sexton said.
Most of the fires were set with a flammable liquid, such as gasoline or kerosene. The quick response of the three firefighters was a leading indicator that the fires might have been set, Sexton said.
"In a rural fire department, people live throughout the county and respond to the station," Sexton said. But Capt. Tharen Stevens noticed that three firefighters were on each scene before anyone else.
"They were all riding together" and had their protective equipment at the time, Sexton said. "When the trucks got there, some firefighters were already there."
As an example, Sexton cited the June 25 fire of a mobile home in the southwestern corner of Boyle County, near Marion County. The fire was reported shortly after 1 a.m., and the scene was not visible from the road and was difficult to locate.
Stevens determined the fire to be suspicious, and shared his concerns with Assistant Chief Anthony Young, who opened an internal investigation.
Young obtained a videotape of one suspect's vehicle parked at the convenience store from which the 911 call had originated, Sexton said. The assistant chief also recognized the voice of the caller on an audiotape obtained from the 911 center.
Young notified Sexton of his findings on July 1, and Sexton then called Kentucky State Police. The Boyle department turned over its evidence to Detective Pat Alford of the Richmond post.
On Tuesday, state police interviewed and "obtained confessions" from the three firefighters, Sexton said. Based on those interviews, 13 fires are under investigation.
Sexton would not say whether the suspended firefighters were simply eager for more experience, and he would not comment on their motives. Each volunteer is paid $15 for each run to which they respond, but Sexton said "I would doubt" that was a motive for the three.
The juvenile had been in the Explorer program for about two years. In that program, youths age 14 and older learn what it takes to be a firefighter. A decision has not been made on whether the juvenile will be charged as an adult, Sexton said.
However, Sexton said he expects the three adult firefighters, who had been with the department about four years, will be charged with arson. In addition, "we plan to press charges for wanton endangerment for each and every firefighter who responded to those fires. When we respond to a fire, everybody has their life in danger."
The Boyle department has about 140 volunteers, Sexton said.
"In any group of 140 people, you may come up with three people who are maybe not as serious about their profession as the others," he said. "And that's what we ran into here. We ran into some people that didn't share the same dedication to service as we did."