Kan. volunteer FF arrested on arson charges

The 22-year-old firefighter allegedly started two grass fires


Savannah Rattanavong
The Manhattan Mercury, Kan.

RILEY COUNTY, Kan. — Riley County police officers arrested on Saturday a Riley County volunteer firefighter in connection with two active grass fires.

Samuel Gilbert, 22, of Riley, is charged with two counts of arson. Police took him into custody at about 11:55 p.m. Friday near the site of a pasture fire at the intersection of Alert Road and Sherman Road. Another fire had been reported Friday night near Fairview Church Road and Calvary Road.

Gilbert has been a volunteer firefighter with the Riley County Fire Department since 2017.

The arrest was the result of a three-month investigation after the fire department requested assistance from RCPD in November to investigate a series of suspicious grass fires in northern Riley County.

Pat Collins, county emergency management director and Fire District No. 1 Chief, said the fire department had started looking into a number of suspicious fires over the course of the past year.

“We already contacted (the police department) on a few of them that were suspicious,” Collins said.

“Then when we really started noticing a pattern and there started to be more of them, we wanted to make sure we were hand-in-hand with them and got them involved.”

Collins said suspicious fires typically have no reasonable origin or do not have nearby material that could spark.

“When we don’t find any of those and it’s on a day that’s uncharacteristic for that kind of a fire, it throws up some red flags,” he said.

Collins said it’s not unheard of to see arsonists become firefighters and he has encountered some during his career.

“It’s something we have to watch every time we start having a few suspicious fires,” Collins said.

“We start looking at our own people first, and we want to make sure we try to resolve that issue. We’ve got about 150 people in the department, and they do some great things and they don’t really get paid for it. So having one bad one, or one that appears to have gone the wrong way, (is a small) percent of my people.”

Collins said Gilbert is suspended, but Collins declined to comment further, saying it was a personnel matter.

Gilbert is confined at the Riley County Jail on a $10,000 bond.

RCPD said it is still investigating the 2019 fires and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the department at 785-537-2112.

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©2020 The Manhattan Mercury, Kan.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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