September 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

Officer nabs suspects in fire hydrant spree

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Thanks to an alert police officer, the Spokane Valley Fire Department was able close a night of hydrant mischief with arrests.

Eleven fire hydrants were opened in the Greenacres and Otis Orchards areas in the wee hours last Saturday. Firefighters began closing hydrants about 2 a.m. and didn’t finish until 5 a.m.

Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford said the department is pressing 11 counts of felony tampering with an emergency device against two 19-year-old men and two 16-year-old boys.

All four were passengers in a vehicle driven by Steven Ray Brown, 19, who lives in the 14200 block of East Desmet Avenue. Clifford said fire officials don’t plan to seek hydrant-tampering charges against him, but police are pursuing a drunken-driving charge.

Clifford didn’t identify the 16-year-olds but said the adults facing hydrant-tampering charges are Justin L. Myles, who police say lives in the 1300 block of South Bannen Road, and Mitchell Gunion, whose address wasn’t given.

The four passengers also face charges of being minors in possession of alcohol. Police said all of them showed signs of inebriation.

Clifford said Officer Todd Miller was aware of the hydrant openings and “put two and two together” when he stopped Brown’s car about 1:50 a.m. near the intersection of Long Road and Indiana Avenue. Miller had been on the lookout for a noisy car when an erratically operated and speeding Subaru caught his attention.

Miller and Officer Jason Petrini found a fire department hydrant wrench in the car. One of the passengers said they had the wrench because a firefighter apparently left it on a hydrant.

Clifford said the wrenches are common, and utility workers also carry them.

Although the arrests occurred about an hour after the first open hydrant was reported, firefighters spent the rest of the night closing hydrants as reports came in.

Damage was limited to an estimated $400 worth of asphalt and soil erosion.

The calls were among 200 the fire department received in the reporting period that ended Wednesday night. Clifford said 136 of the calls were for emergency medical service.

There were nine reports of structure fires, none serious. Clifford said a couple of them came in as chimney fires, but they turned out to be excessive smoke from inappropriate fuel or dirty chimneys.

In the case of dirty chimneys, “it’s basically baking off the creosote that’s inside,” Clifford said. If the creosote bakes too fast, there’s a chimney fire in addition to smoke.

Another problem at this time of year is chimneys plugged with bird and varmint nests. It’s a good time to inspect and clean fireplaces and furnaces, Clifford suggested.

He said three of the reported structure fires turned out to be illegal yard-waste or garbage fires.

A pair of hazardous-materials calls included a gasoline odor that firefighters couldn’t detect and a natural gas odor that sickened some people in their home.

Clifford said the residents had installed a new furnace about two weeks earlier, and firefighters detected elevated levels of carbon monoxide. He said firefighters called Avista to check the furnace.

“Carbon monoxide detectors are a good thing to have in a home,” Clifford said.

There was another brush fire on Fruithill Road, near the Arbor Crest winery.

“We’ve responded to fires up there numerous times this summer and so has Fire District 9,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to say what it is, but most likely kids playing with matches or lighters.”

Eleven automatic alarms were false as usual, and firefighters were unable to find a car fire someone reported. Clifford suspects an overheated engine that cooled down.

He said there were 14 vehicle accidents that sent two people to hospitals with minor to moderate injuries.

Coincidentally, there also were 14 calls for general service.

Those included a broken water line in a house and helping a man get into his home when the battery on his motorized chair was too weak to climb the wheelchair ramp.


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