EAST LIVERPOOL - Hoping to stem a rash of arson fires that have plagued his department in recent weeks, fire Chief Williams Jones has arranged for a $5,000 reward.
The Ohio Blue Ribbon Arson Committee, administered through the Ohio Fair Plan, has made the reward available to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for any of the fires.
Since July 4, the department has battled eight fires, five of which have been deliberately set. All of those have been in vacant structures: 827 Lisbon St., 1651 Park Ave., 1187 Erie St., 207 McKee St. and two homes at 935 and 941 Anderson Blvd.
Jones pointed out that a suspect was caught and charged in the Anderson Boulevard fires due to the diligence of an observant witness who spotted the suspect running into the two buildings, was able to provide a description and wrote down a license plate number of the vehicle he was driving.
"They did the right thing by contacting the police department, and through the quick action of East Liverpool police and St. Clair police, they were able to apprehend a suspect," Jones said, adding, "I'm hoping someone can provide the same (information) for the other fires (at the above addresses)."
He continued, "Someone always sees something. I hope someone who has seen something will call so we can arrest and convict someone."
Concerned for not only the community, but his firefighters' safety, Jones took the initiative to contact the Blue Ribbon Committee, which is supported by all insurance companies in the state and which provides insurance for people who otherwise cannot obtain traditional insurance.
The committee has been in effect since 1978 and any fire department that has had even one arson fire can apply for the reward funding.
The department has had 15 fires since the first of the year, and Jones said he does not believe all of the recent arson fires have been set by the same person, although he does suspect the same person in two of the four (apart from Anderson Boulevard's).
His primary concern has been that eight of the 15 fires this year have been during the A shift's watch, meaning the firemen have been out, fighting blazes from 11 p.m. or midnight until sometimes 6 the next morning, then having to start their new shift at 7 a.m.
"The person setting these fires needs to realize you're putting my firefighters in danger. If anyone is injured, it increases from arson, a fourth-degree felony to aggravated arson, a first-degree felony," Jones cautioned.
Signs were posted Thursday on all the structures suspected as arson fires, and Jones is encouraging anyone with information to call the fire department at 330-385-1117, asking for him or any assistant chief on duty, to offer up information on any of the fires.
Information given will remain confidential, Jones stressed.