MOUNT VERNON — A fire investigator with the power to conduct criminal arson investigations, arrest suspects and summon witnesses, even in moderately-sized cities, is not unusual.
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Chris Menapace said the practice is “very common” and it streamlines the investigative process, which now involves turning it over to a police detective.
A check of some other cities supports Menapace’s contention.
Mansfield, Zanesville and Coshocton all have investigators on staff who have the authority to conduct criminal arson investigations, arrest suspects, summon witnesses and carry a weapon.
Newark Fire Department lists a fire marshal/arson investigator with a staff, but the department did not return a call inquiring about the unit.
Closest to Mount Vernon in size, Coshocton (population about 11,200) has a fire prevention officer and arson investigator rolled into one, said Capt. Dexter Conkle. He said the investigator is an auxiliary member of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Department, so he has the certification to carry a firearm, but he is a paid member of the fire department.
“We do our own arson investigations,” Conkle said, “Although the Sheriff’s Office is still involved.”
(The Coshocton County Sheriff’s Office is also the police department for the city of Coshocton.)
“The fire chief has the power to arrest someone for arson,” Conkle added. “Having another person with arresting power takes some of the work load off the chief.
“So far it has worked well for us.”
Zanesville also has an office in the fire department that combines prevention and investigations. Assistant Chief Kevin Thomas, who heads that office, said, “We can now run an investigation clear through to the prosecuting attorney. We used to only have clerk of court power and did not have arrest powers. Now we have officers who have gone through the training and can carry weapons.