By Kitty Caparella
The Philadelphia Daily News
CENTER CITY, Pa. — A Center City firefighter who allegedly set fire to a ladder truck this week was suspended by Commissioner Lloyd Ayres.
Ayres said Paul Prendergas, a $46,708-a-year firefighter for nearly three years, was placed on administrative leave while the Fire Marshal's Office conducts an investigation of the Tuesday morning incident.
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"I can guarantee the proper discipline will be handed out. This is a very serious infraction," Ayres added. "We don't take this lightly.
The commissioner said Prendergas was "engaged in horseplay," allegedly lighting paper and watching it flame out inside the firehouse on Arch Street near 4th where he worked on Ladder 2.
His supervisor, Lt. Alfonso Mesete, ordered Prendergas, who is in his 20s, to stop playing with fire.
But Prendergas allegedly lit another paper and threw it into the fire truck's engine compartment, which is normally locked, setting ablaze the motor which operates the truck and powers the firefighting equipment.
"That's like throwing the lighted paper under the hood of your car," said a source familiar with the incident.
The blaze was quickly extinguished by other firefighters.
Mesete filed a report about the incident, which prompted the Visual Communications Unit to photograph the damage and a Fire Marshal to interview witnesses.
The station includes four firefighters and a lieutenant who work on Ladder 2; two firefighters assigned to Medic 44b and a battalion chief.
"I'm waiting for all the reports, including the cost of repairs to the truck before taking action," said Ayres. Mechanics replaced a few parts to make the $800,000 fire truck operable.
Prendergas, who is known by officials as a "problem child," has faced discipline in the past year, prompting his transfer from Engine 71 at Cottman Avenue and Loretto Street in the Northeast, to Ladder 2, said sources.
Called a "legacy" member of the department, Prendergas comes from a family of firefighters, said one source. "He should know better. What if Ladder 2 was called into service and couldn't be dispatched because they were fighting a fire on their own truck?"
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