GOTHA, Fla. --
A Gotha man was arrested for stealing more than $100,000 worth of brass valves and police told WFTV the crime could have put firefighters and burning buildings at risk.
At the Church of the Ascension, John Olsen was suspicious when he says he first spotted Jeffrey Barrow outside working near the church's fire department connection valve.
"He said he was with the fire department and he was checking out what they call the Siamese connection," Olsen said.
He said Barrow was even wearing a shirt with the words "Fire Department" written on it. But it turns out Barrow isn't a firefighter and police say he was stealing the valve. In fact, a massive investigation was launched after the brass valves started disappearing everywhere.
"We found out it was statewide, and they really focused on Central Florida," Maitland Assistant Fire Chief Bart Wright told WFTV.
Wright says the valves cost anywhere from $300 to $800 apiece. Barrow, who worked for a local fire safety company, is accused of taking more than 350 of them and selling them for scrap.
The total price to replace the valves is estimated at more than $100,000, but he may not have received more than $4,000 as scrap.
Firefighters can hook hoses up to valves and pump water into a building and through the sprinkler system to battle a blaze. Without them, lives of firefighters and people inside the building could be at stake during a fire.
"The inability to do that could be devastating, if the connection had been stolen," Wright said.
That's why firefighters and victims like Olsen are glad Barrow got caught.
Court records show Barrow's former boss reported his suspicions to police. A local recycling company verified Barrow claimed the valves were left over from his job and he'd been selling them for several months. He's out of jail on a $5,000 bond.
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