Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A betrayal in Coatesville

In 2004 Robert F. Tracey Jr. was hailed as Officer of the Year as a firefighter in Coatesville.

Today Tracey, a paid city firefighter who was an assistant chief until earlier this month, is under arrest in the most recent arson fires that have had residents living in fear, wondering if their house would be next.

It gets worse. Tracey, 37, was quoted in earlier news stories about the wave of arson fires that have terrorized the region. And finally there is this: Tracey’s mother was displaced by one of the fires two days before Christmas.

Authorities say Tracey has been identified by witnesses who placed him at the scene of the two latest fires, which broke out Friday night.

He is charged with arson and related offenses in the fires, the 28th and 29th in the city since the first of the year. The fires broke out just a few bloocks from Tracey’s home.

Since February 2008, federal law enforcement authorities heading a task force on the situation in Coatesville have identified 70 arsons in the Coatesville region.

There have been seven arrests, including charges in a fire that claimed the life of a woman who had survived a Nazi work camp.

With each arrest has come hope that the fires would stop. And seemingly with each weekend there comes word of more arsons.

Now a firefighter has been charged in the most recent fires. Tracey had been affiliated with the fire company as a volunteer for years. He started a paid position last month.

Someone will have to explain this to me. What could possibly drive a person to do this, someone who has seen first-hand, both personally and professionally, of the devastation these fires have wrought?

Tracey apparently did not respond to the blazes Friday night. But the Chester County D.A. indicated he had responded to some of the previous fires.

Right now he is not charged in any of those, only the two Friday night.

In the meantime, a city continues to live in fear, with a gnawing in its gut every time there is an arrest or a report of another fire. When will it stop?

Tracey’s arrest is a betrayal to both the citizens of Coatesville and to the overwhelming majority of dedicated paid and volunteer firefighters that put their lives on the line every time they answer that call.

They don’t make headlines. People like Tracey do.

The rest of us simply shake our heads and wonder why.


Blogger David Diano said...

Arsonists that turn out to be firefighters is not all that rare (and common it TV and movies).

The arsonists start out with a fascination for burning flames. Some become firefighters to be around those bigger blazes. Eventually, for these disturbed people, there aren't enough real fires to satisfy their desires, so they start new ones.

Out West where there are annual forest fires that require hundreds of firefighters, some people start fires themselves to get employment.

March 25, 2009 at 10:37 AM 

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