Selma Fire Captain named Firefighter of the Year

Friday, August 9, 2013 


Captain Chris Graham of the Selma Fire Department was recognized Thursday night by the Selma American Legion Post 20 for not only his dedication to the department, but also his bravery.

Chief Mike Stokes, addressing the legion, said he nominated Graham to be firefighter of the year because of the bravery he exhibited in August 2010 when he saved three children from a burning home.

“A firefighter is not what he did this year, what he did today or yesterday — it’s what they did they’re whole career that warrants this recognition,” Stokes said. “He is definitely worthy of this honor.”

Beginning work at the fire department when he was 20-years-old, Graham moved up through the ranks. Going above and beyond his call of duty, Stokes said Graham has worked hard during his time with the department to implement new programs to help better Selma.

After receiving his award, Graham said there were no words to describe his gratitude.

“This is a job I do, and I don’t expect any recognition for it,” Graham humbly said. “Serving the community is something I take great pride in.”

Born in Bessemer, Ala., Graham moved to Selma at a young age and has called it home ever since. As a member of the Selma Fire Department, Graham said one of his biggest goals is to educate the community about fire safety.

“At first it was job security, but then it turned into a passion,” Graham said of his position at the fire department. “I enjoy doing fire inspections and educating the public about fire safety. It’s important that people realize fire safety and they’re aware.”

Graham thanked his family and God for his success as a firefighter, and he said he looks forward to serving many more years at the fire department.

“I care about this community, and I want to keep it safe,” he said.




Bradley County Fire-Rescue gets new chief (for a day)!

Friday, August 9, 2013 


It was a dream come true for a boy whose hope is to one day join the ranks of the Bradley County Fire-Rescue Service and don the uniform that real-life firefighters wear.

Jesse May, a 9-year-old who attends Charleston Elementary School, became Fire Chief for a Day in Cleveland on July 26, and his life will never be the same.

It was more than the fact Jesse took his appointment as fire chief seriously during those five hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was more than the fact that grown men, real-life firefighters, treated him with respect and honor — treating him to lunch and escorting him to several fire stations. It was something more. Jesse knew that his grandmother, like a fairy godmother, was behind his wish that came true. Her love for him made this possible and his faith in her was not disappointed.

Jesse’s grandmother, Betty Lou May, said she and her grandson went to the Hope Festival at Tri-State on July 20 where an auction was held. She gladly bought at auction the $45 coupon for her grandson to be Fire Chief for a Day. That’s what grandparents do when they are able — make their grandchildren’s dreams come true.

“My grandmother is one of the greatest people on earth,” Jesse said. “That was the first time I had ever been to a real fire station. I love playing with (toy) fire trucks. I have a full play set. I was surprised that they let me use the water hose and the axe for a few minutes. I also enjoyed going to lunch — to Subway.”

Jesse said he would recommend that other youths become Fire Chief for a Day since it is educational, a fun way to meet firefighters and a great experience for youths wanting to decide on a career. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Jesse said, “A fireman, a scientist and possibly a librarian.”

Although he visited all the fire stations while acting as fire chief, Jesse admitted, “I’d probably prefer Sector 11 to live in because it has a training area. I think I would be better off there.”

His grandmother said she is very proud of the training in good manners that her grandchild has embraced at such a young age. In fact, as acting fire chief, Jesse gave one of the firemen a raise, stating, “It just felt like he deserved one.”

With tears in her eyes, Betty said, “I cannot express how proud I am of him! He’s a good child. He’s obedient. I had three strokes in the summer of 2007, and he has been there to help me. It’s a joy doing things for him because he’s so appreciative. He always says thank you.”

Betty, who has 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, said her life revolves around her grandchildren, but more so with Jesse.

“He comes to Grandma’s every chance he gets,” she said. “I was happy to do this for him. He said that certificate is worth $1,000!”

“It is!” Jesse added. “I mean, we got to go to every sector except Sector 10. I think it was closed. But I didn’t get a chance to see a fire, though. I was hoping to see a fire.”

The fact that there were no fires in Cleveland when Jesse served as Fire Chief for a Day was suddenly no longer the draw. The real fire was right there — burning in his heart and in the heart of his grandmother. They were suddenly keeping each other warm simply by being together. It was a burning love that many grandparents and grandchildren feel, and nothing can put out that fire.




A deeper look at firefighters who set fires

Thursday, August 8, 2013 


They are curious cases, these firefighter arsonists, people who put out fires accused of starting them.

A Lincoln County volunteer firefighter was arrested Monday for allegedly torching a garage and is suspected in 14 other fires. In recent weeks, firefighters from Vermont, Iowa, New York and Oklahoma have been in court for allegedly setting fires. An estimated 100 firefighters are arrested for arson each year.

"It happens more than you think," said Daniel Hebert, who investigated many firefighter arsonist cases during his time as a federal agent in Louisiana. "Really, it goes on way more than anyone knows. We don't know about most of them."

But the ones who are caught, they are sources of fascination. They are contradictions. Researchers have been working for years to learn what drives firefighters to become arsonists, or whether these are actually cases of arsonists drawn to be firefighters. The FBI has gotten involved. So have universities. Profiles have been drawn up and tossed aside. Learning what drives a firefighter to set fires has become a dedicated field of study.

In the case of the Lincoln County firefighter, experts saw something familiar.

Dustin Matthew Grigsby was a volunteer fireman in Old Monroe. The town had been stung by several suspicious fires this year. The last one came Saturday. A security camera recorded a white car parked outside a garage moments before the structure burst into flames.

The county fire marshal had noticed the fires were occurring in a circle. He advised authorities to look for the car inside the circle. Police found a white Chevrolet Lumina in Grigsby's driveway. Police said he told them he "needed a release" and wanted to be able to respond to the fire to put it out.

Grigsby is 19. Firefighter arsonists are generally 17 to 25, according to research by Matthew Hinds-Aldrich, an assistant professor of fire science at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass. He was the lead author on the 2011 National Volunteer Fire Council "Report on the Firefighter Arson Problem."

Grigsby's dad is a fire district captain. That's not unusual, Hinds-Aldrich said. "You can imagine, how does Junior make a reputation for himself? How is he going to have the stories to tell that his dad does?"

And Grigsby's alleged motivation is common, too, Hinds-Aldrich said.

He wanted to fight a fire. So he allegedly started one.

In some rural districts many firefighters are volunteers, so the basic benefit of the job is not a paycheck. They train for hundreds of hours, then they go back to their small communities and do nothing.

"There's a boredom element to it," Hinds-Aldrich said.

Some are true firebugs, people who have an unhealthy love of fire. That's rare. James Pharr, who teaches a Fires & Explosions class at Eastern Kentucky University, recalled one case where the mother of a firefighter turned out to be the arsonist. Her son was a contract firefighter -- he got paid only when he was called out.

More commonly, the offenders see their actions as helping the community. They are providing chances to train, a chance for the firefighters to get out and have some fun. They target grasslands or derelict, empty buildings. In a majority of the cases studied by Hinds-Aldrich, at least two firefighters at the same department were involved in the fire-setting. They worked together. In Louisiana, authorities discovered that several firefighters from two rural districts were setting dozens of fires each year, mostly grassland but eventually buildings. They called them "parties."

"They go into it for all the right reasons, but then they do something wrong," said Hebert, who helped bust the Louisiana firefighter arsonists during his career at the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"It's not really malicious," Hinds-Aldrich said.

The Lincoln County fire marshal said there were no signs of trouble with Grigsby before his arrest.

"He was probably one of the last people you would've looked at for it," Barry Nuss said.

Firefighters who set fires are not a new phenomenon. In the 1830s, a farm laborer and part-time firefighter was executed for setting a series of fires, according to Hinds-Aldrich's study. Newspaper headlines from the turn of the 20th century are filled with references to the acts, when arsonists were called "incendiaries." Research into the causes took off in the 1990s. In 1994, the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime interviewed 66 jailed firefighter arsonists to develop a profile. In 2003, the U.S. Fire Administration issued a special report on the topic.

After several years of pushing to identify potential arsonists before they became firefighters -- and failing at that, the research these days has turned toward educating fire departments and breaking what some call a culture of silence inside firehouses. Some fire departments quietly push out firefighters they suspect of arson or deal with the problem privately.

"There's a mentality among firefighters to protect your own," Hebert said.

"This has long been a taboo topic in the fire service," Hinds-Aldrich added.

He pointed to the Old Monroe fire department as an example of the changes that are needed. The department addressed the problem publicly. Yes, it might hurt in recruiting members and raising funds. But they did the right thing, he said. There are very few arsonists among the estimated 1.3 million firefighters in the United States. But they do great damage, Hinds-Aldrich said.

He's going to Chicago next week to talk to a convention of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He will be talking about firefighter arsonists, about how the problem is less firefighters obsessed with fire than firefighters who think they are doing the right thing.

"In some ways," he said, "that's the more difficult conclusion."




KY EMA Director resigns following scathing audit

Thursday, August 8, 2013 


John W. Heltzel quit Thursday as director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, two days after a state audit questioned millions of dollars in spending at the agency and accused him of threatening employees to keep them silent."Team, for the good of our agency, today I have tendered my resignation to the governor and he accepted it," Heltzel told his staff in an email Thursday afternoon."I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and I know you will continue to protect and restore the commonwealth," said Heltzel, a retired brigadier general in the Kentucky National Guard. "Please pull together and continue on the path. I have been blessed to serve with you."Reached by phone later, the 55-year-old Heltzel declined to comment. He made $79,538 a year.Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Heltzel in 2008 to head the agency that coordinates state and federal responses to disasters and runs a 24-hour Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort. On Thursday, Beshear said the resignation was appropriate."The findings in the recent auditor's report made it clear that new leadership was needed in the agency, given the numerous questions and grave concerns it raised about the proper handling of funds, reliable and transparent accounting, and appropriate work environment," Beshear said in a statement."The public's trust is a sacred investment that we all must safeguard, and this change in leadership will help to restore accountability and transparency to this critical agency," Beshear said.State Auditor Adam Edelen unveiled a special audit of Emergency Management on Tuesday that he said revealed "waste and abuse at one of the most vital agencies in state government." The audit documented questionable spending on alcohol, meals, gifts, entertainment, hotel rooms, no-bid contracts and other items.Edelen estimated the total for questionable spending from 2007 to 2012 at $5.6 million. He said his auditors had difficulty determining exactly how Emergency Management spent money because Heltzel and other managers "openly threatened" employees to intimidate them into staying quiet. Simultaneously, finances were poorly organized and spending records were altered or manufactured to conceal where money went, he said.Beshear on Thursday named a temporary replacement for Heltzel: Mike Jones, executive director of the Office of Management and Administration at the Department of Military Affairs. Jones' first task will be to draw up a corrective plan for problems identified in the audit, the governor said.It's disappointing that Heltzel remained in his post for two days following the audit's release, said Steve Robertson, chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party. Beshear's initial responses expressed disappointment in the audit's findings but praised Emergency Management for its work responding to disasters."Beshear should have taken decisive action by terminating the KyEM director as soon as the auditor's findings became public," Robertson said. "It's also troubling that this level of mismanagement, fraud and intimidation could have occurred without the governor's knowledge in the first place." 




Former Clarkton Fire Chief charged with fraud

Thursday, August 8, 2013 


The former fire chief in the Bladen County town of Clarkton faces fraud charges.

The Fayetteville Observer reported ( that former Fire Chief Allen Robinson of Clarkton and former Assistant Chief Joshua Simmons of Bladenboro were charged earlier this week.

Sheriff's Capt. Rodney Hester says the men are accused of cutting a water pump off a fire truck last year and reporting it stolen to collect insurance money. The pump is worth nearly $13,000.

The 35-year-old Robinson is charged with five counts of embezzlement and two counts each of insurance fraud and corporate malfeasance.

The 25-year-old Simmons is charged with conspiracy.

It was not clear if the men have attorneys.




Son of Montclair Fire Chief arrested for vehicular homicide & DUI

Thursday, August 8, 2013 


The 20-year-old son of a New Jersey fire chief has been arrested and charged with vehicular homicide and drunk driving after he allegedly crashed into a car carrying four people, killing a 16-year-old boy and a 21-year-old man.

Prosecutors say Harrison Allen, the son of Montclair Fire Chief Kevin Allen, was arrested in connection with the crash Tuesday night.

The two people who died were ejected from their car, and were not wearing seatbelts, and two others were seriously hurt.

Authorities said the two cars collided near South Fourth Street and Essex Avenue in Maplewood around 10 p.m. 

Harrison Allen was in custody Wednesday. Prosecutors said he did not yet have a lawyer.

Kevin Allen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.




Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief gets additional charges for theft from dept

Thursday, August 8, 2013 


Embattled Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Yuknavich, already facing theft charges for allegedly stealing from the department, was hit Wednesday with six new theft counts alleging he diverted more than $48,000 for his own use.

Yuknavich, 49, of 668 Northampton St., Wilkes-Barre Township, is charged with four felony counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and two misdemeanor counts of the same offense.

The chief was led into court in handcuffs for an initial arraignment Wednesday morning wearing a baseball cap and a neon green sleeveless shirt. He left a free man after Magisterial District Judge Michael Dotzel released him on his own recognizance.

Yuknavich had little to say to waiting reporters as he walked briskly to a waiting pickup.

“We’ll straighten it all out,” Yuknavich said. “No biggie.”

Yuknavich is still awaiting trial on charges of theft, receiving stolen property and access device fraud alleging he wrote himself $11,865 in fire department checks and spent $3,706 on the fire company’s Sam’s Club credit card.

That trial — which involved a prosecutor being ordered to jail and the relationship between Luzerne County Judge Joe Sklarosky Jr. and Yuknavich’s defense attorney being questioned — is postponed indefinitely pending an appeal of a ruling that prohibited evidence that prosecutors say is key to their case, namely records of a November 2008 bank withdrawal and 15 bounced fire department checks.

He remains free on $15,000 bail in that case.

The charges filed by state police Wednesday allege investigators learned of new offenses while preparing for trial in that case. A review of the books by the Department of Auditor General showed that on several occasions, checks to the fire department from the business manager were not deposited into the department’s account, according to a police affidavit.

The township’s business administrator, Michael Revitt, told investigators the township issues a monthly check for $3,500 to the department to cover the $2,900-per-month mortgage and bills. Revitt told authorities the check was previously written for $1,500, but the amount increased when Yuknavich realized the township collects money through an emergency medical services tax, according to the affidavit.

Revitt told investigators he did not require receipts from the fire department until Yuknavich was arrested.

A teller at the Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union told investigators she recalled Yuknavich coming in with checks for $3,500 — but he would deposit only part of the check and take the rest in cash, according to the affidavit.

Another teller told investigators Yuknavich would call the credit union and verbally authorize other people to sign for the checks, police said.

A review of copied checks found Yuknavich failed to deposit $48,712 into the fire department’s account between 2008 and 2012, police said.

The affidavit says Yuknavich also deposited $295 in fire department checks into his personal bank account.

Yuknavich is due back in court for a preliminary hearing Aug. 28 at 1 p.m.




Circleville Firefighter honored for saving a life

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 

A Circleville firefighter credited with saving the life of a Pickaway Street resident last month was honored for his actions Tuesday at the regular meeting of Circleville city council. Joe Eveland was on his way home from work in the early morning of July 15 when he noticed smoke in the sky and went to investigate. What he found was a fire at 551 N. Pickaway St. Upon entering the home, he discovered its owner, Tracy Kawasaki, asleep on the couch. Eveland is credited not only for discovering the fire, but for rescuing Kawasaki and several pets from the burning residence. Kawasaki was invited to Tuesday’s ceremony but did not attend. Mayor Don McIlroy presented Eveland an official proclamation at Tuesday’s ceremony, and David Crawford, council president, presented a signed resolution. “I know the mayor is very proud of Mr. Joe Eveland, Chief Tim Tener is proud and we all are very proud of firefighter Eveland,” Crawford said. McIlroy said he was honored and pleased to attend the ceremony before he read his proclamation aloud. “I urge all relatives, friends and citizens to join me in thanking fire fighter Joe Eveland for dedication, service and loyalty to the citizens of Circleville,” McIlroy said. Eveland spoke only briefly at the ceremony. “I’m grateful to get to do the things that I do for the town,” Eveland said. “I took a chance five years ago to join the department because it was something I wanted to do. I love my job and I look forward to continuing my service for a long time to come.” Chief Tim Tener said Eveland was faced with a tough choice, to enter the home without equipment or wait for backup to arrive. “There’s only a few firefighters for the city of Circleville who have ever been in that situation,” he said. “It wasn’t a real good situation. He didn’t have the equipment that he needed, it was dispatched, but he needed to evaluate if he could wait for that equipment. That’s not an easy place. It’s a very hard decision that you have to make.” Tener said he thought Eveland made the right choice. “I think he made the right call to get in there, and he made the right decision,” Tener said. “A few more minutes and we don’t know because of the smoke and the fire in the structure the way it was, it could have been fatal.”




Maple Shade Fire Chief charged with assault

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 

More bad news for the township Fire Department. Its chief was charged with aggravated assault for punching a Public Service Electric & Gas contract worker who went to his house to terminate electric service for failing to pay his bill, police said Tuesday. Elwood Severns Jr., 48, of East Broadway, was arrested after he was notified of the charge against him and voluntarily went to the Police Department for processing, police Lt. Jeffrey Hoch said. “I deny everything,” Severns told the Burlington County Times on Tuesday, adding that the alleged incident had nothing to do with his duties as fire chief. He was released on his own recognizance. The matter has been referred to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office for review, but in the meantime Severns is expected to remain in his position as chief. This is the second arrest of a member of the Fire Department since July, but Mayor Rob Wells said he still has confidence in the department and Severns. “He’s a good chief and a great man. He’ll have his day in court,” Wells said. Severns was charged with the indictable offense because the PSE&G worker was allegedly attacked during the performance of his duties as a public servant, Hoch said. The same law applies to attacks on such employees as police officers, firefighters and teachers. Hoch noted that elevated the charge to aggravated assault instead of simple assault. “The charge is assault on a utility worker — that bumps it up to an indictable,” he said. “(The aggravated assault law) applies to this group of people who are trying to do their jobs (when they are attacked) essentially. The same thing (charge) would have happened if the chief was in the performance of his duties and this public service worker assaulted him; it would be an enhanced charge.” The incident occurred about 12:15 p.m. on July 2, when a family member called Severns to tell him the utility worker, identified by police only as a 37-year-old resident of Whitehall, Pa., was about to shut the electric service off, Hoch said. Severns drove home and hit the victim in the chest with both fists and tried to pull him out of his vehicle, according to the police report. The victim went to Kennedy University Hospital-Cherry Hill for treatment and was advised to see his own doctor for further evaluation, Hoch said. Because Severns is a local firefighter, his first appearance was not before a municipal court judge in Maple Shade but instead in Bordentown Township. Severns has been a member of the volunteer department for 24 years. He was elected chief by his colleagues last year and re-elected this year. On July 17, the former deputy chief, Ryan M. Callahan, 29, of West Woodlawn Avenue, was charged with theft for allegedly using a department credit card to make cash withdrawals of nearly $2,000 for personal use. Callahan has since been replaced by Kevin Greenfield. The department has about 60 members. Severns said at the time that Callahan “needs his due process” and noted, “He has not been found guilty.” The chief expressed similar sentiments Tuesday about his own case. “There were allegations made against me, and I completely deny everything,” he said. “I did have my first court appearance, and I feel confident I will be fully exonerated from everything — that’s my belief in all of this.” Severns said he expects to have one more court hearing in Bordentown Township in a couple of weeks before everything is settled. When asked if he punched the PSE&G worker and whether he had paid his electric bill, he replied, “I don’t want to say too much more, because I have a court appearance left.” But he did say of the events reported to police: “It never happened that way.” When asked if criminal charges being made against two top officials has affected morale in the department and his ability to lead, Severns said, “No. For me I got 100 percent support.” He said he had told his fellow firefighters about the allegations right after they were made. “I wanted to keep them in the loop,” Severns said. Wells confirmed that Severns “wasn’t acting as fire chief (when the incident allegedly occurred). It was a personal issue. We have complete confidence in our Fire Department.” When asked if Severns could be removed as chief, Wells said, “We’ll allow him his due process. Everyone is allowed his day in court.” But he added, “If something does come out negative, then it’s something we’d consider.” “I put my soul 100 percent in the Fire Department,” Severns said, “and when something like this happens, I don’t want it to be a reflection on the department, because it’s not. “We are a very good, trained department, and a top-notch Fire Department, and I want to keep it that way.”




Mobile Fire-Rescue Firefighter to receive Medal of Valor Award

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 


Tuesday, August 6, at the City Council meeting Captain Richard “Richie” Harris was recognized by Fire Chief Stephen Dean, Mayor Sam Jones and the City Council as the Firefighter of the Month for July as well as the recipient of the Medal of Valor Award.

The Medal of Valor is presented to an individual or individuals who, through their actions during an emergency incident, did knowingly put themselves at high risk of death or personal injury for the purpose of removing another person from harm’s way.

On March 9, 2013 around 9:48 p.m. a fire occurred at a single story house located on Farnell Drive.

The occupant and her 4-year-old grandson were in bed together when the grandmother woke up to find smoke in the house and got up to investigate. She said while walking down the hall the smoke got worse so she opened the front door.

After opening the front door she thought about her grandson and attempted to go back in and get him but the fire and smoke had intensified and she was unable to get to him. She then exited the structure for help.

Meanwhile the child got up and went into the bathroom in an attempt to get out and/or away from the smoke.

Firefighters were told in route that a child and elderly person were trapped inside. Engine 16 arrived on scene with smoke showing and several people in the front of the structure yelling.

Crew members of Engine 16 advanced a line into the rear door of the structure.

People by a bedroom window stated they could hear a child inside.

Captain Harris entered the window through bedroom and as he got to the bathroom the child was on his knees and reached out to him. Harris grabbed up the child and went back to the bedroom window he entered by.

"He latched on, he was kind of weak because there was an awful lot of smoke in there but he did latch on and took off to the window," Harris said.

Members of Truck 24 were removing jagged glass from the window and attempting to gain entry when they were met by Captain Harris at the window with an unresponsive child. He handed the child to them through the window and told them to meet the rescue truck at the street for emergency transport.

The child was transported to the hospital where he later recovered. The fire was caused by an unattended pot on the stove. The fire was contained to the kitchen area.

When we returned to the scene, we found the child's grandmother moving back into the home.

"He came in and saved my grandson, and if he hadn't of gotten there I don't know what would've happened. It was a very scary day," Davida Hill said.

Hill said she'd like to meet Captain Harris to thank him. We told her about his award and she said it was well deserved.

Harris has been a firefighter for 20 years, 15 with the City of Mobile.




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