Long Island Volunter Charged Following Vehicle Fire

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a volunteer firefighter on Long Island, New York, has been charged in connection with a fire involving two vehicles at his fire station.

Firefighter Steven Pena of the Freeport Fire Department was arrested and charged with fourth-degree arson after he accidently ignited a blaze at the fire station when transferring gasoline from a fire department vehicle to his car using a wet/dry electric vacuum. The gasoline caught fire when the machine tipped over and the cars were completely destroyed in the fire. Two firefighters who responded sustained minor injuries.

The incident occurred yesterday at 1:40 pm. Pena’s attorney said that “the department vehicle destroyed in the incident was not being used for emergency response and had a broken transmission”.  Hurricane Sandy has left thousands of residents homeless, stranded and facing severe gasoline shortages.

The fourth-degree arson charge may seem a bit odd to some given that the fire occurred accidentally. Here is the NY statute:

NY Penal Law S 150.05 Arson in the fourth degree.

1. A person is guilty of arson in the fourth degree when he recklessly damages a building or motor vehicle by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion.

2. In any prosecution under this section, it is an affirmative defense that no person other than the defendant had a possessory or proprietary interest in the building or motor vehicle.

 Arson in the fourth degree is a class E felony.

It would appear this statute is aimed at someone who intentionally starts a fire that then recklessly damages a building or vehicle. Arguably Pena “recklessly” damaged the vehicles, but he would appear to have a defense in that the fire/explosion was not “intentionally” caused. Any NY criminal lawyers out there care to comment?

I would think that petty larceny might be a more appropriate charge, assuming he was siphoning the gas without permission.

More on the story.     

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Dave LeBlanc

    I guess I don’t see the intent. Maybe it is a question of there is no where else in the law to charge him.

  • Thanks Dave

    I don’t see the intent either. Laws like that are intended for someone who starts a fire intentionally and then recklessly allows the fire to spread to a building or vehicle.

    It sounds like Pena negligently started this fire… maybe reckless… maybe.

x

Check Also

Sounding The Alarm: Volunteer Theft in NY State

In the aftermath of 140 arrests for insider theft from volunteer fire departments in New York state in the past six years, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wants fire departments to tighten their financial controls.

Florida Chief Disciplined for Hostile Workplace

The fire chief of Ponce Inlet, Florida is being disciplined by the town manager for creating a hostile work environment following an investigation by the town’s police internal affairs unit. Fire Chief Dan Scales is facing a 120-hour suspension without pay, a 6% pay cut, and being placed on probation for one-year