Tulsa Firefighters Canvas City in Search for Arsonist

Several firefighters went door-to-door Tuesday in north Tulsa to get information about a New Year's Eve arson that severely injured one of their own.

The firefighters canvassed the area around 4900 N. Elwood Ave., visiting more than 200 homes to hand out fliers about the arson investigation and fire safety tips.

Firefighter James P. O'Neal was not breathing when he was pulled from the burning home on New Year's Eve. He was part of the group that went into the home first, and he collapsed from smoke inhalation. After several days in intensive care, O'Neal was released from the hospital last week and is recovering, Fire Department spokesman Stan May said.

The investigation has been progressing, but May said investigators need someone who saw anything to come forward.

"We're hoping someone out there will know something that can tie it together and we can make an arrest," he said. "We need more information, and it's going to have to come from the community."

The residents left the home that Saturday evening, and the fire was called in about 30 minutes later, May said. It started behind the house and spread quickly. Fire marshals have determined that an accelerant was used to start the fire, he said.

Investigators are looking for information about who was in the area and any suspicious activity that was observed, May said.

This fire doesn't appear to be related to a rash of arsons that plagued north Tulsa over the summer, he said.

The canvassing effort is also a way for firefighters to get out in the communities they serve and visit with residents.

"You want to make sure you're accessible to the community," May said.

This case was personal for many of the firefighters at Station 19, where O'Neal is based, as well as those across the city.

"When somebody on the outside tries to do harm on your family, you come together," May said.

More than $5,600 has been collected as a reward for information in the case. That money includes donations from several Tulsans, local businesses and a former New York City firefighter who responded to the attacks there on Sept. 11, 2001, May said.

Meanwhile, the investigation into what caused O'Neal's injuries is ongoing. Officials will look at O'Neal's breathing apparatus to see whether there was a malfunction.

O'Neal still has difficulty talking, but May said he expects O'Neal to return to the department eventually.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service