Firefighter Nation News -- The Coatesville arson case took a more dramatic turn Monday when a veteran fire officer was charged in connections with two recent fires. (New: Read Fire Department Statement)

There were no injuries or significant property damage in two fires Friday night. The fires involved involved trash and furniture outside of a structure.


Robert Tracey, 37, was a member of the Coatesville Fire Department. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported he was a former captain of Coatesville's West End Fire Company, recently hired by the city as a part-time firefighter, a move that forced him to give up his volunteer rank. WFMZ said he was formerly an Assistant Chief.

The Associated Press reported that one of the fires in December displaced Tracy's mother from her home.

Media outlets reported that he was the 2004 Officer of the Year. Tracey was held in lieu of $2 million bail, charged with nine counts stemming from the two fires..

At least six people have been arrested in connection with nearly 70 fires in the area since the start of 2008.

Update -- Associated Press Report

By DAN ROBRISH
Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A firefighter whose mother was displaced by a December arson in a struggling steel town beset by them was charged Monday with lighting two small trash fires there last week.

The fact Robert Tracey Jr. is a firefighter in Coatesville, a town of 11,000 residents just west of Philadelphia, made the charges particularly difficult for his colleagues, who've been strained by dozens of arsons since the beginning of last year, prosecutors said.

"It's especially disturbing for them that one of their own could be responsible for incidents like this," Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll told reporters from his office in West Chester.

Tracey, 37, was identified by witnesses who saw him running from the scene of Friday's fires, which were set a few blocks apart and didn't cause any injuries or significant damage, Carroll said. He was jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.

Attorney S. Lee Ruslander II, who represented Tracey in a previous unrelated case, declined to comment when reached by telephone Monday night.

Tracey is the sixth person arrested in connection with arsons in Coatesville and the surrounding area. He's not charged in any of the other fires, one of which killed a woman, but Carroll said the investigation was continuing.

"I would love to say that this is the end, but it's not," Carroll said. "There are a number of unsolved arsons that likely cannot be tied to the suspects who have already been arrested."

The Friday blazes bring to 22 the number of arsons in the city this year. They came a week after a fire badly damaged two homes.

There have been at least 48 arsons in Coatesville since February 2008 and at least 18 others in nearby communities.

A teenager accused of setting nine of the fires led investigators to several of the scenes and confessed in a police interview, law enforcement officials testified this month.

Roger Leon Barlow Jr., 19, was held for trial after a preliminary hearing on arson and aggravated assault charges in connection with blazes that broke out in Coatesville between Jan. 2 and Feb. 3. The arsons included a massive fire that severely damaged 15 row houses. Damage in that fire alone is estimated at $1.2 million.

A trial date has not been set.

On cross-examination of several witnesses, defense attorney Terrence J. Marlowe pointed out that no one had seen his client set the fires and that no physical evidence pointing to him had been found.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Coatesville/West End Fire Company Official Release on Arrest

By Assistant Chief Robert Pacana - March 23, 2009

For Immediate Release -- On the evening of Monday, March 23, 2009, the officers of the West End Fire Company No. 3 were informed that one of its members, Robert Tracey Jr., had been arrested and charged with 2 counts of arson.

Mr. Tracey had been involved with the Company for nearly 25 years and has held several positions within the Company. Most recently, Mr. Tracey held the position of Assistant Fire Chief, but resigned from that position in February of this year to become a career firefighter with the City of Coatesville Fire Department.

No words are sufficient at conveying the anger, frustration and disappointment that the officers and members of the West End Fire Company feel regarding these allegations. Should Mr. Tracey be found guilty of these charges in a court of law, he will have betrayed not only the trust of Company, but also the sacred trust of the community that he served.

These allegations that a firefighter may have been involved in one or more of the recent arsons that have plagued the City of Coatesville should not overshadow the hard work and dedication of the countless men and woman who risk their lives on a regular basis to ensure the safety of the community.

The West End Fire Company is committed to work collaboratively with law enforcement regarding this ongoing investigation. Mr. Tracey has been suspended from the Company indefinitely pending the outcome of the case.

The leadership of the West End Fire Company will provide more information as it becomes available.

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I feel bad for the rest of the Coatsville FD that now have to live with this hanging over their heads. All I an say to these guys is try and stay positive... you're all still needed and the bad guy is gone.

At least firefighters in PA are now required to sign off on an arson criminal backgroud check. I don't think this will totaly cure the problem but at least it's a step in the right direction.
What we need to do is weed these goofs out before they act out.
My guess this is not the first time he lit something up. It's kind of like drunk driving, you rarely get caught your first time out.
How many Full time Dept's do psychological testing? How many Volunteer?
As a fire service member how many times have you worked with or run across a member that just didn't seem quite right? Did you follow up on it? Talk more with the person or tell a supervisor something is a miss?
Most of these people stand out when you really look and pay attention.
We need to put our efforts into prevention with this stuff.
Our reputations and public trust depends on it!
Unfortunately...this happens too often w/Volunteers. Don't think for a minute that at this late stage in life, these are the first fires he's set. There should be a screening process for volunteers. ESPECIALLY when there is a move to make them employees.
This is not just a volunteer/career issue. This is an industry issue. Whether it is committing arson, prostitution stings, or burglary, it occurs on both sides.

What we need to do is weed these goofs out before they act out

I have yet to see anyone come up with a proven method which can detect with accuracy what a person will or will not do in the future. Criminal background checks only show something if someone gets caught. They are not fool proof. Polygraphs can be fooled. Psychological testing? Subject to interpretation. Lets face it, we all have to be a little crazy to do this job.

Most of these people stand out when you really look and pay attention

Some do and some don't. There are many cases (not just arson) where is was shown that it had been an ongoing issue for years and no one including those closest to that person ever had a clue.

Don't think for a minute that at this late stage in life, these are the first fires he's set


Maybe and maybe not. Maybe this was a pattern, or maybe it was the first ones and he wasn't smart enough to do it without getting caught. In the age of cameras now, I see more of a chance of first offenders being caught.

Believe me, I am as angered anyone else about these types of people, and I don't care whether they are paid or not. But lets remember one thing: EVERYONE is entitled to their day in court, and until they receive that day, a charge does not automatically equal guilt. If he is found guilty, then I hope our judicial system works and he gets the maximum.

But please, lets not make this another career vs volunteer bash. Firefighters are firefighters and it makes both side look bad.
The career v. volunteer thing has no place here. Keep it on the topic, thanks.
This kind of trash talk is unacceptable. We ALL take an oath to protect life and fight against the loss of property. It doens't matter if we are vollies or paid. Shame on you. Shame on anyone that thinks one is better that the other, we are all one big brother and sisterhood. What happened to teamwork? I thought we were out here for the same reasons. For the gentleman that started these fires, he deserves to be nailed to the wall. Period!
Tom i agree with your comment 100%
Before they can be stopped the arsonist have to be caught first..and Mr.Tracey has been caught! so there is on off the street..
Hope the citizens can keep their faith in the fire dept..it was one man not the whole department..
Unbelievable!!!!!! I really don't know what to say. Shocking, my God his own mother was displaced due to the fires. Obviously this guy has some serious issues. I hope justice does the right thing.
Psychological testing is going to be cost prohibitive for many departments.
This guy must have had some deep seated issues if he burnt his own mother out.
Regardless, I am sure that the residents in Coatesville are starting to believe that these arson fires are NEVER going to end.
And it will take the fire department there a decade plus to gain the trust of their community again.
Think about the psychological scars that this is leaving.
What motivates a firefighter to do this if they are already seeing several fires, there is no revenge factor, no crime of passion; so why would this guy be doing it? Power perhaps?
It's a sad story for sure.
TCSS.
Art
West End Fire Company hold your heads high, as a whole you were and will be there for your community, thats what counts.My thoughts are with you.

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