5 former Md. FFs charged with arson

The ex-firefighters are accused of working with two other suspects to start the fires so they could then respond to them


By Laura French

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Five former members of a Maryland volunteer fire department have been charged with arson for allegedly helping start fires they responded to. 

Jeremy Hawkins, 26, Nicholas Holzberger, 19, George Smith, 24, Jay St. John, 24 and Cole Vazquez, 21, all former firefighters at the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department, were indicted by a grand jury on multiple arson, conspiracy and misconduct charges related to four vacant structure fires in Prince George's County, according to FOX 5 DC

(Clockwise from top left) Jeremy Hawkins, Nicholas Holzberger, Cole Vazquez, Jay St. John and George Smith, all former members of the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department, are accused of helping to start several fires so they could then respond to them.
(Clockwise from top left) Jeremy Hawkins, Nicholas Holzberger, Cole Vazquez, Jay St. John and George Smith, all former members of the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department, are accused of helping to start several fires so they could then respond to them. (Photo/Prince George's County Fire Department)

Prince George's County State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy said during a press conference Friday that the five men allegedly worked with two other suspects, Giancarlo Reyes and Francis Ortiz-Oro, to set the fires between late 2019 and early 2020. 

Authorities said video surveillance footage from the fire station as well as electronic devices belonging to the former firefighters show they "had knowledge of and were involved in the planning of arsons for the purpose of responding to the incident scenes and extinguishing the fires," FOX 5 DC reports. Reyes and Ortiz-Oro, who are believed to have physically set the fires, also face multiple arson charges. Smith is also accused of being directly involved in setting one of the blazes.

The five firefighters were removed from emergency operations at the fire department when the investigation began in early 2020. 

The four fires caused a total of approximately $260,000 in damage to unoccupied houses and a shed, authorities said. Hawkins sustained a minor injury in one of the fires, but no other injuries were reported. 

Prince George's County Fire Chief Tiffany Green released a statement, saying, "It is beyond disheartening to learn that the accused were willing to cause harm simply so they could serve themselves. I want to make clear that their alleged actions in no way reflect upon the hundreds of dedicated Volunteer Firefighters who serve our community each and every day." 

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