The Whitfield County Fire Department has some new tools in its battle against arsonists, courtesy of a grant from Georgia Arson Control.
Ken Lecroy, a consultant with the non-profit organization that’s funded by Georgia insurance companies, was in town Tuesday morning to deliver two new trail cameras valued at $250 to department headquarters, where Chief Ed O’Brien and Investigator/Lt. Jesse Bond were happy to accept the equipment.
While hoping they never have to use the cameras, the two firefighters readily pointed out they could have been useful in the investigation of previous incidents.
“We have had one case specifically in the past where we borrowed trail cameras from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) to investigate an arson,” O’Brien said. “Then we thought, could we just get our own?”
That’s a good idea, Lecroy interjected, “because there’s always delays when you borrow equipment, because you’re on their schedule when it can be delivered and set up, so to have your own cameras always ready to go is huge for fire investigation.”
Bond is one of the county’s three state-certified fire investigators whose job it is to figure out what caused a fire. To make that job easier in the case of repeat arsons, he decided to try and get funding for the cameras, applying for a grant that was eventually approved by the board of Georgia Arson Control.
“The investigators are super excited and thankful to be receiving this grant from Georgia Arson Control,” Bond said. “Any type of resource that we can use for investigations that prevent the destruction of property and lives of Whitfield County citizens, we’re all about it.”
Bond says the department will put the cameras to good use “if we had somebody who was going to a certain property over and over and over and setting property on fire. That’s what we would ideally use these cameras for. We’d mount them in an inconspicuous place, so basically unmanned surveillance is what we’d be conducting.”
The cameras would be hidden to capture images of unsuspecting arsonists in the act, and the photographic evidence would even be accessible in real time over investigators’ cell phones, if service is available in the area.
“If it takes a picture, it sends it to your cell phone, and you’ll get instant notice and then you can respond or send a response almost instantaneously to the site,” Lecroy said.
The fire department’s responsibility to investigate the cause of fires is critical to the insurance industry, where big money is often at stake if it can be proven that an arsonist set the fire.
“Typically when we have a structure fire, the next day, the insurance investigator gets with our investigators and we all dig through it, look it over, try to truly come up with the cause,” O’Brien said, “because there’s a lot of money that insurance pays out on arson cases that if they can prove it was arson, they don’t have to pay out on the big insurance claims.”
Having photographic evidence provided by these dedicated cameras could be important in a trial, O’Brien said. “Someone might say we can just go grab a camera ourselves, but if it’s my personal camera, if we tried to use it as evidence, the defense could say, ‘Where’d you get it, what have you done with it, what’s on it?’ This will be official county equipment that all it’ll be used for is surveillance.”
The chief says the county is excited to receive another investigative tool. “I think we’ll probably end up having to use these cameras – bad to say – but I think we will,” O’Brien said, especially with the economy in turmoil, a time when arsons historically rise. “In fact, we’re working with the state on a pretty heavy case right now. I can’t say a lot because it’s an active investigation, but that’s one case where something like these cameras could have helped if they were there.”