Indiana Chief Arrested as Police Fire War Brews

An Indiana fire chief was arrested at the scene of a house fire Tuesday for reportedly pushing a police officer who was breaking windows in an attempt to ventilate the building.

The incident occurred in the Town of Cannelton and involved Cannelton Police Officer Ryen Foertsch and Cannelton Fire Chief Christopher Herzog. The altercation was referred to the Indiana State Police who arrested Chief Herzog at the scene on charges of Battery Against a Public Safety Official, a Level 6 felony.

According to an ISP Press release:

Tuesday evening, Cannelton Fire and Police Departments responded to an active structure fire at 550 Knight Street, Cannelton.  Cannelton Police Officer Ryen Foertsch and Perry County Deputy Stephen Poehlein arrived at the scene, and immediately entered the burning residence to make sure nobody was inside.  After clearing two rooms of the home, smoke became too overwhelming, forcing the officers from the fire.

Once outside, Foertsch attempted to break the window of a room that he was unable to clear.  Fire Chief Christopher Herzog approached Foertsch, pushed him hard enough to cause him to step back, and began shouting profanities at him, telling him to get off of his fire scene.  Foertsch tried explained to Herzog what they were doing in clearing the burning home, at which point Herzog pushed Foertsch again, and again yelled profanities at Foertsch to get off of his scene.

Both officers conveyed the situation to their superiors.  At the request of Cannelton Police Chief Lee Hall, troopers with the Indiana State Police were contacted to investigate the complaint.  After investigating, Troopers Jeremy Galloway and Nathaniel Kern arrived at the scene of the fire and placed Herzog into custody.  Herzog was lodged in the Perry County Jail.

The arrest of Chief Herzog at the fire scene, in and of itself, could be a criminal offense under Indiana law, which makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to interfere with a firefighter performing his/her emergency scene duties. The law does not grant an exception to police officers.

IC 35-44-4-8 Intentional interference with firefighter
Sec. 8. A person who knowingly or intentionally obstructs or interferes with a firefighter performing or attempting to perform the firefighter’s emergency functions or duties as a firefighter commits obstructing a firefighter, a Class A misdemeanor.


Dave Statter has more on this 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.

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