Man At Center Of Maryland Firefighter Arson Probe Tells His Story

RIVERDALE PARK, Md. (WUSA) -- Jerry Engle claims he watched as three firefighters set a vacant house on fire in early 2008, in Riverdale Park, Maryland. According to Engle, he left an anonymous letter for the chief and president of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department alerting them to the problem. Engle says no actions were taken.

Jerry Engle, a long time volunteer firefighter at Riverdale and three other fire companies in Prince George's County, told 9NEWS NOW on Tuesday that he didn't bring up the incident again until a little more than a month ago. That's when Engle was accused of stealing equipment from the Riverdale firehouse and began providing information to fire investigators about the arson.

The house that burned used to sit on what is now a vacant lot at 5413 Riverdale Road. Engle believes the incident he witnessed occurred in March of 2008. There is YouTube video from March 17 of a fire occurring at that house. The fire was reported at 6:21 AM. The same house also burned two days earlier in the early morning hours of March 15. There was also at least one fire in 2007.

Engle claims the episode began when he drove the fire engine to check out a report of smoke in the area during the overnight hours. According to Engle, he waited at the fire engine as the three other firefighters on board walked toward the home with road flares. Thinking that was odd, Engle says he followed the firefighters and saw them using the flares to ignite debris inside the house.

According to Engle, he drove the fire engine with the crew back to the Riverdale firehouse a few blocks away. Once there, Engle says two firefighters then left the fire station with a gasoline can. A short time later the call was dispatched for a house fire at 5413 Riverdale Road.

Jerry Engle contacted 9NEWS NOW immediately after Monday's raid at the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department. Sources tell 9NEWS NOW fire investigators served a search warrant looking for evidence of a possible arson ring involving firefighters. Engle says a warrant was also served at the home where he is living in the Bowie area.

Jerry Engle denies being involved in the Riverdale Road fire or setting any other fires, but admits investigators have questioned him extensively about the arsons. Engle wants the investigators to give him a polygraph examination to prove he is innocent.

Engle believes the investigators were already looking at the possibility firefighters were involved in a string of arsons when he provided the information about the Riverdale fire.

Sources indicate a handful of volunteer firefighters remain operationally suspended as the investigation continues. This includes three firefighters at Riverdale. One of the suspended Riverdale volunteers is also a career firefighter in Montgomery County.

Contacted about Engle's allegations, Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charles Ryan III, says the department stands by its previous statements that they are cooperating 100 percent with fire investigators.

Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department Chief Spokesman Mark Brady says the department can't make any comments about the case because the search warrants served by investigators remain sealed.

In a previous statement issued by Brady, the department acknowledged investigators were looking at suspicious fires in six vacant homes, but made no mention of the possibility that firefighters were the suspects. The fire identified by Engle is not on that list.

Engle has long been a controversial figure in the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department. He wrote a book called Probie Days about his many years with the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department. Last year, videos surfaced of Engle's time at Kentland. It showed firefighters apparently hazing a new firefighter and shooting off illegal fireworks inside the station. Engle was seen using his body as a launching pad for a bottle rocket.

Engle drives a red Volkswagen adorned with numerous pieces of small fire equipment including nozzles and axes.

Engle admits his departures from the volunteer fire departments at Kentland, Riverdale and Bladensburg each involved controversy. Engle was suspended from the Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department in March following the accusations that he stole items when his company was transferred to the Riverdale station.

Engle say he was told by a top official in the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department that he is now permanently barred from being a firefighter in the county.

For more on this and other stories, visit STATter 911 Blog.

Story courtesy WUSA 9

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