Three Alabama Firefighters Charged in String of Arsons

Oct. 16, 2008
The arrest of three members of the Ruth Volunteer Fire Department and a juvenile on arson charges has shaken the department, but it hasn't broken it.

ARAB, Ala. -- The arrest of three members of the Ruth Volunteer Fire Department and a juvenile on arson charges has shaken the department, but it hasn't broken it.

"It's been a terrible ordeal for department," said Chief Nancy Nolen. "We are all taking it pretty hard, but we are still responding to calls, and we are still training, and we don't plan on stopping. We still want to serve our community and get our (insurance) ratings lowered."

Brandon McQueen, 22, of Elmore Drive, Derrick Greer, 29, of Saylor Circle, Steven Christopher Owens, 24, of Mount Oak Road and a juvenile are charged in a string of arsons in this summer.

They are no longer associated with the fire department in any way, Nolen said.

Members of the RVFD initiated the investigation.

"The last two fires, there was just something about them that were very strange," Nolen said. "I can't quite put my finger on what it was, but something just wasn't right. So, we called the sheriff's office and began the investigation.

"The sheriff's office has been very good to work with," she continued. "Their response to it and their professionalism has been wonderful. And, they've been very supportive of the department. We are glad they solved the case, regardless of the outcome."

The hardest part, Nolen said, was knowing that firefighters were involved.

"It's hard to imagine how they could do this, not only to the community but to the department," she said. "They stood shoulder to shoulder with us fighting the fires that they knew they started. It's just hard to understand the betrayal."

Part of that betrayal came from Nolen's son, Owens, who was a captain in the department.

"I really can't discuss the individuals because the case hasn't been closed yet," she said. "They still have to go to court, so I can't really get into specifics."

Support from the Ruth community has been overwhelming, Nolen said.

"We have gotten cards, calls and e-mails, and they have been good," she said. "To know that they are standing beside us has been a tremendous help."

With only about 10 active members, losing three to arrests has hurt.

"We are looking for new members," Nolen said. "We need the help. Anyone who wants to volunteer is welcome. I would encourage the community to help us. Anyone in the community is welcome to join or attend our meetings."

The department meets at 7 p.m. tomorrow and each third Thursday of the month at the fire hall on Mat Morrow Road.

"If you don't want to fight fires, we have other things that need doing, from cleaning to fundraising," Nolen said. "We'll find you something to do."

Nolen, who has been in the department for 10 years and chief for two years, said RVFD will do background checks on new members and possibly current members.

"We've talked about doing it in the past, but we never did," she said. "We will definitely be doing that, now. We'll be looking at driving records and criminal history."

That's not a guarantee of rooting out would-be criminals, though.

"I don't think background checks would have turned up anything on (the four charged)," she said.

Nolen said the department has been tested over the past few weeks.

"But we aren't going to let it tear us down," she said. "We'll be here serving the community. We are planning our annual chili supper (Oct. 31), and we'll continue with our training."

The same week the first arrest was made, the department began a drive to get money donated through residents' water bills.

"It was strange to have that begin the same week as the first arrest, but it had been planned," she said. "The water company tells us there has been a good response from the community, but we don't know exact numbers yet. We are really excited about this project."

Nolen also asked that a comment in an earlier Tribune story be clarified.

Greer was featured in a Tribune story on Sept. 17 as a business owner. In the story, he claimed to be the RVFD's chaplain.

"We don't have a position of chaplain in the department," Nolen said. "We never have had."

At the time of his arrest, Greer was the chairman of the board for Marshall County Citizens for Property Rights, a group trying to get the home rule law in Marshall County appealed.

Republished with permission of The Arab Tribune.

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