Cumberland Times-News

Local News

February 8, 2013

Volunteer firefighters charged with arson

Two suspects considered for involvement in Moores Hollow Road fire, 3 other city blazes

CUMBERLAND — Two volunteer firefighters have been charged with arson in connection with a recent fire on Moores Hollow Road where another deliberately set fire occurred two weeks earlier, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Both defendants are now being eyed for possible involvement in at least three other fires in vacant dwellings in the city — the Jan. 13 fire at 1012 Ella Ave.; Jan. 21 at 106 E. Roberts St. (the same street where one of the defendants resided, according to court records) and the Oct. 18 fire at 944 Glenwood St. that has been ruled by city and state fire investigators as arson.

The defendants — Kevin Leslie VanMeter, 24, of the Rawlings area and Zachary Canaan Plummer, 19, Cumberland — have both been granted pretrial release after posting bond.

Plummer was charged with solicitation to commit second-degree arson, conspiracy of second-degree arson and conspiracy in second-degree malicious burning when he was arrested Jan. 30, not long after fire had occurred in a vacant residence at 12216 Moores Hollow Road. He was released on $5,000 bond the day of his arrest.

VanMeter was arrested Wednesday when he turned himself in at the fire marshal’s regional office at the Maryland State Police barrack in LaVale. He was charged with first-degree arson and second-degree malicious burning and was released after posting $10,000 bond Wednesday.

The fire marshal’s office said Plummer was a member of the District 16 Volunteer Fire Department — the company that was first due in the Jan. 20 and Jan. 30 fires at Moores Hollow Road. It has not been determined if Plummer was part of the District 16 crew that responded to both fires, according to Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Jason Mowbray.

VanMeter was identified by the fire mashal’s office as a member of the Rawlings Volunteer Fire Department.

Mowbray said he had no specific information concerning how long the defendants served as volunteer firefighters. However, the chiefs of the Rawlings and District 16 volunteer fire departments have been interviewed and have fully cooperated in the on-going investigation.

The Jan. 30 fire was controlled by a retired city firefighter who used an extinguisher on the fire prior to the arrival of District 16 firefighters. No injuries occurred and the fire that originated in the kitchen caused damages estimated at $750, according to Deputy Fire Marshal Ryan Chapman, the lead investigator in the case.

Mowbray said the arrests stemmed “from a pretty quick turn of events” with the response of the retired city firefighter and quick reporting of the incident to the Allegany County 911 center.

“A neighbor in the area observed a suspicious vehicle and troopers from the Cumberland barrack responded quickly, located the vehicle and identified the operator when he returned to the vehicle. The information was immediately passed on to the fire marshal’s office.

“This is a great example of partnership and cooperation between the community, fellow officers of Maryland State Police and our office. Had one of these components not come together as quickly as they had, we very well could still be seeking a suspect in this fire,” said Mowbray.

The Moores Hollow Road fire location was already on investigators’ “radar screen” when the alert was sounded for the Jan. 30 fire, based on the fire that had occurred there  Jan. 20.

Apparently, no information has been developed as to why the defendants allegedly targeted the Moores Hollow Road location. However, investigators determined that Plummer “provided materials to the other (VanMeter) to help set the fire,” Mowbray said.

The cause of the Ella Avenue fire and the East Roberts Street fire have not yet been determined. The Glenwood Street fire has been ruled arson and all three incidents remain under investigation by Cumberland Fire Marshal Lt. W. Shannon Adams and Deputy State Fire Marshal Kristen Nieberlein.

Mowbray asked for anyone with  information “on these suspects” — VanMeter and Plummer — to come forward.

Bruce Bouch, deputy state fire marshal who serves as the agency’s public information officer, provided a news release late Wednesday to the Times-News announcing the arson arrests of VanMeter and Plummer.

However, the release did not identify the defendants as volunteer firefighters. Bouch readily identified VanMeter and Plummer as fire volunteers when asked about the matter by the Times-News on Thursday morning.

Bouch said the agency typically does not identify the profession of any defendants who are charged by the fire marshal’s office through investigations.

“The fire marshal’s office does take every investigation seriously — whether it involves citizens or volunteer firefighters. We will complete every investigation and determine if anyone is at fault and will arrest any individual involved in these types of criminal activity,” he said.

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at jlalderton@times-news.com.

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