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If we are to believe television, all a fire marshal must do to effect an arrest is locate the suspect, knock on his door, identify himself as a law enforcement officer and inform the perpetrator that he is under arrest. At this point the arrestee will turn around, place his hands behind his back, tell his family that this is all some kind of mistake and that he will be back in a few minutes, and walk quietly with you to your car.
In the real world, it seldom if ever goes this smoothly. As illustrated in the following story, despite having the time to plan and having most conditions on your side, problems can quickly arise.
Photo by Stephane Brunet
Arson squad detectives investigated a series of general-alarm fires in Montreal, Quebec, that occurred in June 1995. The blazes left hundreds of people homeless and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
On Aug. 31, 1992, a man who will be known as "B" in this column was paroled from New York's Downstate Correctional Facility. He had served 15 years of a nine-to-25-year sentence on a charge of murder. Less than 60 days later, B would set fire to his girlfriend's apartment when she refused to let him in.
When the battalion chief arrived on the scene, he saw the heinousness of his act. B had taken several bags of clothing, soaked them with a flammable liquid, piled them against the front door of the apartment and ignited them. Inside the apartment at the time of the fire were B's girlfriend, her brother and three young children.
What made this act particularly callous was the fact that the only way out of the apartment, aside from the front door, was a party balcony that, because of fear of intruders, had a wire fence around it, rendering it useless. B was aware of all these facts at the time he started the fire. Fortunately for the family, the firefighters were able to breach the fence from the outside and remove the occupants. Though treated for smoke inhalation, they escaped more serious injury. Immediately upon extinguishment of the fire, the battalion chief made a request for the fire marshals.
Fire Marshals Daniel P. Higgins and Bil Tulipane were the team on duty in the Bronx that night. They too saw the savageness of what might have happened. After conducting their investigation they knew who they were after, their problem would be in locating him before he could do anything else to this family.
Knowing that B had nothing to lose and that as long as he was free the family was in danger, Higgins and Tulipane devoted all their resources to apprehending him. They contacted the Department of Corrections, the Division of Parole, the police department, and B's family and friends. Soon, they had description of a car B was using and several locations he was known to frequent. It now became a waiting game, a matter of driving from one location to another checking the neighborhood for the car, while at the same time not being so conspicuous as to scare B off.
For two months, B played cat and mouse with the fire marshals, all the while harassing the family via the telephone. Finally, on Nov. 23, while checking a location at East 126th Street for the third time that tour, Higgins and Tulipane found what they had been looking for the car they sought was parked where they had been told it would be if B was in his brother's apartment.
Aware of B's violent background, coupled with the fact that if caught he faced a lengthy prison term, the marshals anticipated trouble. They had arranged for a backup to monitor the radio and were just putting in the call when their man showed. Knowing they couldn't remain unnoticed for long in their present position and, more important, not wanting to risk losing B, Higgins and Tulipane decided to make the arrest themselves. Moving quickly, they came up behind B while he was half-in and half-out of his car. Identifying themselves as police officers, they grasped B from either side to prevent his reaching for any weapons concealed in the car.