|TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that the former chief of the Quinton Volunteer Fire Company was sentenced to jail today for using fire company equipment and personnel to help a property owner by unlawfully burning down an abandoned house that had been declared unsafe.
Patrick Foster, 47, of Quinton Township, was sentenced to 364 days in the Salem County Jail and two years of probation by Superior Court Judge Timothy G. Farrell in Salem County. He was ordered to report to the jail by 9 a.m. on Friday (April 12). Foster pleaded guilty on Dec. 3, 2012 to an accusation charging him with third-degree crimes of arson and hindering apprehension or prosecution. He forfeited his membership in the fire company and is permanently barred from any public position or employment.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony A. Picione, Deputy Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, prosecuted the case. Foster was charged as a result of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety.
In pleading guilty, Foster admitted that he agreed to use the fire company to burn the house down in order to gain assistance from the property owner’s son. The son was the housing official for Quinton Township at the time, and Foster wanted his assistance in obtaining a certificate of occupancy in connection with renovations he was making to his own home. Foster also admitted that he hindered the investigation by lying to police, saying that his wife knew of an arrangement between him and the son regarding the fire and the certificate of occupancy, when she did not.
At Foster’s direction, members of the fire company were told to report to the abandoned house on Beasley Neck Road on the evening of Dec. 21, 2010 for a training exercise. Foster was in command at the scene and directed the firefighters to set fire to the structure, which they did using gasoline as an accelerant on the second floor of the house. Foster alerted 911 operators that the fire company was engaged in a special assignment for which permits had been issued.
In reality, it is illegal for firefighters to burn down a standard, existing structure for training. There are stringent requirements for “live-burn” training, and a permit is required from the Division of Fire Safety. No permit was obtained in this case. At one point during the fire, Foster called 911 and asked the operator to alert the electric company, because a live electrical wire had fallen to the ground, causing sparks to fly. Investigators found that the protocols in the New Jersey Fire Code for live-burn training were not followed, endangering the lives of firefighters under Foster’s command.
The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by Deputy Attorney General Picione, Detective John Sheeran and Dective Rob Feriozzi. It was conducted for the New Jersey State Police by Detective Stephen Christinzio and Detective Dennis Quinn. It was conducted for the Division of Fire Safety by Capt. Rodman Meyer of the New Jersey State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Foster was suspended from the Quinton Volunteer Fire Company as a result of the investigation and forfeited his position as chief.