Excelling in the fight against fire, arsonists

Marshal who serves Carroll is honored for his thorough work

July 04, 1999|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Twenty-two years after he began as a teen-age volunteer at the Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department, Timothy S. Warner has reached a high point in his career as a firefighter.

Warner was named the 1998 Deputy State Fire Marshal of the Year at the Maryland State Firemen's Association annual convention last month in Ocean City.

"I was surprised; I didn't expect to get it," he said. "I enjoy what I do, and I have a lot of interest in it. It's nice when they recognize you like this -- it makes it all worthwhile."

His record before and since becoming a deputy state fire marshal seven years ago is impressive: lieutenant, assistant fire chief and fire chief, for nine years, at Winfield; second and first vice president and president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association; member of the Carroll County Advanced Technical Rescue Team; and recipient of the Governor's Citation for Emergency Medical Services performance.

He has trained countless hours to receive certification in firefighting, emergency medical services, various aspects of advanced rescue, fire investigation, fire inspection, life safety fire education, and training dogs to search for people and detect ignitable liquids.

"I like the firefighting part of it," he said.

He also likes to go beyond putting out a fire.

Piecing it all together

"I like the investigation -- putting the pieces together -- it's neat," he said.

He did lots of investigating last year on 80 fires and seven explosives situations (bomb threats, Molotov cocktails, fireworks), 74 follow-up investigations and 15 assists. He also completed 242 fire code and safety inspections.

Of the criminal arson/malicious burning fires, Warner made arrests and got convictions in 14 cases involving seven adults and 12 juveniles. The 14 cases accounted for about $1.3 million in property damage.

One case involved a series of arsons in spring 1998 that ended in the arrest of three juveniles and one adult who were later found to be involved in other criminal activities in the Westminster area. The four were convicted on 27 charges ranging from arson to theft and possession and distribution of drugs.

Warner, 38, was the investigator behind the successful conviction of the two men who set fire to the historic Braddock Heights Roller Rink in Frederick County. He also discovered that the arsonists were responsible for some previous fires in the Brunswick and Jefferson areas of the county.

Two other arrests solved 10 arson/malicious burnings in Frederick County.

Perfect conviction rate

Beyond the number of cases he handled is his conviction rate -- 100 percent.

"He's an exemplary employee, a spit-and-polish fire marshal and a tenacious investigator," said Rocco Gabriele, state fire marshal. "He has the ability to get a conviction and that's very important, which means he's done a thorough investigation."

Warner, who lives near Taylorsville, "fits in everywhere -- he can talk to people, he's polite, he respects people," Gabriele said.

Nominations for Deputy Fire Marshal of the Year come from five regional supervisors who cover 19 of Maryland's 23 counties.

Criteria include outstanding work in several areas: investigation, inspection, public education, fire code enforcement and successful prosecution of arson and related criminal cases.

Warner starts an investigation at "the least-burned area and goes to the most-burned area -- it puts us where we want to be -- most of the time," he said.

Fire marshals also try to talk to everyone involved, from the firefighters first on the scene to the property owners, and anyone who may have seen something suspicious.

Even though "most arson is circumstantial evidence because the physical evidence is burned," investigators can still build a successful case with the help of the state crime lab, witnesses and information from people who have seen or heard something, Warner said.

Full police powers

As a division of the Maryland State Police, fire marshals have full police powers and work out of state police barracks in the county or counties where they are stationed; in Warner's case, Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties.

When an arrest is made, the fire marshal takes the suspect to the barracks for processing, then to the court commissioner.

"We'll go to the state's attorney with our case and ask him if we need anything else, and he'll say we need to do this or that," Warner said. "In most cases, I don't have to go to court because I have the hard evidence, and many suspects will plea bargain with the attorney and court."

While cases may range from a car fire to a building fire, Warner treats all investigations the same.

"I treat them all as a big deal because you never know where the little stuff is going to end up," he said, giving the Westminster case of three juveniles and one adult as an example.

"That started out as a vehicle arson, then two houses under construction and two barns and several vehicles," Warner said.

With the state police working undercover in Westminster High School and the help of the Westminster police, the three agencies put together a case.

"It's a long process most of the time. Even though we've made an arrest, the investigation continues until we go to court," Warner said.

"We couldn't do it without everybody working together," he said.

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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