Si­cily fire­fight­ers ‘caused blazes for money’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

ROME — Fif­teen fire­fight­ers in Si­cily are sus­pected of de­lib­er­ately start­ing fires or hav­ing friends or fam­ily call in false alarms so they could be called to work and earn money, po­lice said on Mon­day, an­nounc­ing the ar­rest of the al­leged ring­leader.

The 15 fire­fight­ers are vol­un­teers, but when called in off­duty they re­ceive 10 eu­ros ($12) an hour in com­pen­sa­tion from the Ital­ian govern­ment.

Po­lice of­fi­cer An­tonino Ci­avola said the fire depart­ment’s com­mand cen­ter tipped off au­thor­i­ties that one squad of off-duty fire­fight­ers was be­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ally called to fight fires.

“Com­pared with 40 in­ter­ven­tions from one squad, th­ese vol­un­teers were do­ing 120, spark­ing grum­bling among some and the de­sire to join them by oth­ers, so they could get more money,” Ci­avola said in a state­ment.

One of the 15 was put un­der house ar­rest, while the oth­ers were al­lowed to stay free.

Po­lice said some­times the sus­pects called the na­tional phone num­ber for fire emer­gen­cies; other times they en­listed friends or rel­a­tives. Other times, the sus­pects al­legedly set fire to trash con­tain­ers or land in the coun­try­side.

But Ci­avola said the sus­pects were so greedy, they be­came care­less, us­ing their own phones to re­port fires. Other times, he said, rel­a­tives and friends used the same phone num­ber to call in fires, but gave op­er­a­tors dif­fer­ent names.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors said the al­leged ring­leader was par­tic­u­larly bold. “With the com­plic- ity of the other vol­un­teers, while on duty, with his own car, he left the fire sta­tion to set a fire or call in a false alarm, then went back to the sta­tion and waited for dis­patch­ers to order them to fight the blaze, Ci­avola said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­tend the scheme went on from 2013 to 2015.

The Mediter­ranean is­land usu­ally ex­pe­ri­ences very dry sum­mers, mak­ing it easy for fires to catch hold.

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