Man posing as firefighter arrested in fires at vacant buildings, Gary police say

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Gary police took a 22-year-old man into custody in connection with a fire at a vacant building. Police said he falsely identified himself as a Gary firefighter.

A fire broke out at an abandoned building near East 17th Avenue and Maryland Street early Tuesday morning.

"The blaze was ridiculous. It didn't look like someone se the fire. It looked like somebody bombed the place," Julian Miles, Gary resident, said.

Gary police are questioning a man after finding suspicious items in his vehicle at the scene.

"He actually came to the scene and that's how officers spotted him. He came back to watch firefighters fight the fire," Lt. Thomas Pawlak, Gary Police Department, said.

"When the officers stopped him he identified himself as a Gary firefighter," Lt. Pawlak, said. When he didn't check out, the man changed his story.

"Then he tried to identify himself as a volunteer firefighter with another agency and at that point, based on what they observed and they observed some gasoline cans in the car they took him into custody," Lt. Pawlak said.

Police found gas cans, a firefighter's hat and vests inside the man's Chevy sedan, Lt. Pawlak said. Even that Chevy Impala appeared to be an official vehicle, right down to the tags on the license plate.

"His car has full fire equipment. He had the helmet. He had the gloves. He had red lights. He had blue lights.," Lt. Pawlak said.

Officials had the car towed.

"When I pulled up, I walked right past the car and asked, 'Where is the car you want me to tow?' I said, 'I can't tow this police car,'" Darrel Prince, tow truck driver, said. "It was set up and lit up like a Christmas tree."

Now officials are looking at whether this fire is connected to two other recent fires at other abandoned buildings.

Earlier Tuesday morning, firefighters extinguished another fire at another vacant building across the street. The day before, firefighters were called to an abandoned building about a mile from Tuesday's fires, which is near West 8th Avenue and Jackson Street.
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