PUNXSUTAWNEY — Thursday, state police formally announced charges against a teenage member of the Big Run Area Volunteer Fire Company stemming from an Aug. 9 fire in Big Run, and said he has also been implicated in several other fires dating back to 2010.
Officials from PSP-Punxsutawney and the district attorney noted, however, that charges filed against Anthony M. Overbeck, 18, Big Run, are not an indictment of other firefighters.
“I’ve worked in the emergency services arena for 25 years hand-in-hand with these volunteer firemen,” Capt. Scott A. Neal, commanding officer Troop C, said during a press conference Thursday. “Ninety-nine percent of them are great, service-oriented people.
“We can’t exist in a rural area without them,” he said. “They put themselves at great risk every time they fight a fire, and they’re not getting paid for it. They get very upset when one of their own gets arrested for something like this, just like we (state police) get upset when one of our officers is arrested, and the media write the headlines, ‘Fireman or policeman gets arrested.’”
Thursday, Trooper Jamie K. Levier, public information officer for Troop C, said Overbeck is charged with a number of crimes — including arson and related offenses, burglary and criminal trespass — in connection with Tuesday’s fire at an unoccupied residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, Big Run.
District Attorney Jeffrey Burkett said more charges will be filed against Overbeck, who was a member of the Big Run department since only January.
“The future paperwork that will be filed on those other offenses will make it clear,” he said.
Burkett noted it’s a “dark day” when a firefighter is charged with arson.
“One of the reasons that it’s a dark day is because there are so many men and women who selflessly volunteer their time and get called out in the middle of the night constantly, and do it all for us,” he said. “They take a hit when something like this happens, and that’s not fair, because they are good, good people.”
Although he prosecuted several arson cases against five members of the Brookville Volunteer Fire Company in 2004, Burkett said, “My interactions with the fire department members who were not involved with the fires were completely positive. They were good people, and they didn’t like this any more than anyone else does.”
Levier said that the state police fire marshal has been investigating a string of fires throughout the Big Run area since September 2010 — about 10 fires, added Bernard P. Petrovsky, Troop C Criminal Investigation section commander.
Levier also said at this time, police could not discuss Overbeck’s motive for allegedly setting the Pennsylvania Avenue fire.
“That is something we’re developing as the investigation continues on,” Levier said.
“We can’t dig into how we discovered it was Overbeck. We developed information through a lengthy and complex investigation that turned him up as the lead suspect.”
Pick up a copy of the Friday, Aug. 12, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.