15 firefighters investigated, set fires to earn money

RAGUSA - An entire team of 15 volunteer firefighters are being investigated for fraud and arson after being accused by Ragusa’s State Police of setting fires to then put them out and earn their 10 euros an hour.  The leader of the group has been arrested and put under house arrest because he "continued to repeat the crime,” according to the Judge for Preliminary Investigations.

 According to investigators, they would ring the 115 operating room with false alarms to gain state-provided bonuses for volunteers, thus working the triple of shifts on average compared to other firefighter squads. Almost all 15 men admitted to the crimes committed between 2013 and 2015 when interrogated. “They know everything, they know we’ve set fire to things,” they said to each other as they walked past each other in the mobile police headquarters in Ragusa.

 It was revealed during questioning that the head of the group would disappear with his van to set fire to bins and land, with his colleagues well aware of his actions. They would then set out in their tankers to extinguish the flames and reap the benefits. According to the State Police he even said once he wanted to “explode a bomb.” 

 On other occasions, however, volunteer firefighters called for "help" from relatives and friends, thus obtaining reports that did not exist. The prosecutor had called for protective measures for everyone, but the Judge for Preliminary Investigations thought too long had passed since the alleged crimes between 2013 and 2015. The group leader was subjected to house arrest because he "continued to repeat the crime”.

 Suspicions first arose when Ragusa’s Provincial Fire Department noticed anomalies on the number of interventions carried out by that team over the others: rather than the average of 40 “missions,” they performed 120. Police investigations were therefore aimed at clarifying the reason behind for any false reports of fire. Although volunteers, they were paid but only when they worked: if they remained in the barracks, however, they were not entitled to any earnings.