Fire Fighting in Canada

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Third firefighter charged in series of blazes

Jan. 2, 2017, Florence, N.S. -  A volunteer firefighter has been charged with arson, the third firefighter accused in a series of blazes in Cape Breton last summer.

January 2, 2017
By The Canadian Press

Gary Richard Luker faces two charges of arson, joining two other Florence Volunteer Fire Department members facing multiple charges for fires involving vehicles, brush, abandoned buildings and two residences.

Florence Deputy Chief Bill Capstick said Thursday Luker has been a member of the department for two years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who was himself fire chief decades ago.

“It’s definitely not good for the department, for the public’s perception of it,” Capstick said of the new charges.

Cape Breton Regional Police arrested the 33-year-old Luker, who lives in North Sydney, on Dec. 23. The force announced the arrest Thursday, adding he had been released ahead of an appearance in Sydney provincial court on Jan. 17.

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In August, police announced that 49-year-old Stephen Tremblett of North Sydney faced 12 arson charges, while 24-year-old James Clayton MacDonald of Bras d’Or faced 16 arson charges.

Police said Thursday the investigation is ongoing.

“It’s bad news. But we deal with bad news all the time. Hopefully, that’s the end of it,” said Capstick.

Florence fire Chief Dave Julian said in August that he has learned such allegations against firefighters aren’t uncommon.

“It’s called firefighter arson,” he said, referring to arrests in Canada and the United States in recent years.

The most recent Canadian case to attract attention was in Mayerthorpe, Alta., where a firefighter who battled the flames that destroyed a railway trestle bridge northwest of Edmonton in May, was later charged with setting the blaze.

The RCMP have said 19-year-old Lawson Michael Schalm, 19, of Mayerthorpe faces 18 counts of arson following an investigation.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-based National Volunteer Fire Council estimates on its website there are about 100 arrests annually alleging firefighter arson across North America.

Ed Nordskog, an author and arson profiler with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, said he has received more than 10 calls this year from Canadian firefighting agencies asking for his advice on cases of serial firefighter arson.

He notes that many of the arrests in Canada and the United States are of wildfire firefighters who set fires to make money off them, but in volunteer firefighting the motive has more often been due to boredom.

“In modern U.S. and Canada, there’s not that many fires anymore,” he said.

“What you have in most firefighter arson is a mixture of things. It’s probably excitement, perhaps boredom.”