Suspicious fires went uninvestigated in the District after arson - KMSP-TV

Suspicious fires went uninvestigated in the District after arson investigators office left unstaffed

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Someone set fire to a playground in Southeast D.C. Saturday night, but FOX 5 has learned there was no one on duty to investigate it.

The scene was left unsecured after firefighters were told there were no investigators working in an office typically staffed 24 hours a day.

In fact, the firefighters on Engine 32 were called to the playground twice Saturday night to extinguish suspicious fires that damaged an expensive rubber mat.

According to a transcript of the radio traffic that night, the crew asked for an arson investigator each time, but was told there were none available.

On Monday afternoon, approximately 39 hours after the suspicious fires were extinguished, an off-duty D.C. police officer was conducting his own investigation at the Ridgecrest Apartment complex where he works part time.

The off-duty officer along with an on-duty Seventh District officer were filling out a destruction of property report and photographing and documenting the damage to a rubber mat that had just been installed.

According to the radio traffic that night, Engine 32 was dispatched at 9:15 p.m. and arrived about four minutes later.

Asking soon after arrival:

Engine 32: “Can you go ahead and start a fire investigator to our location.”

Dispatcher: “Okay Engine 32, be advised there is no fire investigator available.”

“Engine 32, you copy?”

Engine 32: “You're sure you have no investigator available? Are they on other runs or just out of service?”

Dispatcher: “There's none available this evening.”

The off duty officer noticed blackened footprints leaving the scene in the direction of a building entrance across the street.

But D.C. police officers do not conduct arson investigations. They are handled only by the fire department.

Later that night, Engine 32 is dispatched again to the same location and again asks for help.

Engine 32: “Yes sir, I'm just confirming you have no fire investigators on duty this evening. Is that correct?”

Dispatcher: “Communications to 32, be advised that is correct. No fire investigators. (Unintelligible)

Engine 32: “OK, we copy. If you will notify MPD and have them respond to this location, this is the second time we have responded to this playground on fire. Both times, the fire has been deliberately set.”

Dispatcher: “OK, Engine 32. Will advise.”

But the scene was not secured and it wasn't until Monday at the request of D.C. Police, a fire investigator arrived at the playground where he took some photos and examined the damage.

Late Monday, the fire department released a statement saying: “Two fire investigators were scheduled to work on Saturday, but called out sick and were unable to perform their duties. A third investigator was called and placed on standby in the event they needed to be dispatched. We are investigating a possible lapse in communication between the dispatcher and the investigator that may have prevented them from arriving at the scene.”

Union President Ed Smith calls arson investigators a critical function of the department and cannot understand why it was left unstaffed. He calls it another example of the backwards priorities of the current administration.

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