Javier McMillan, of the 200 block of West Mowry Street, was arrested Tuesday afternoon at his father’s residence in Norristown. Authorities had been looking for him since a warrant was issued for him last week. A source close to the investigation said McMillan, a volunteer for two years, confessed to setting the blaze.
McMillan, who is being held at the county prison in lieu of posting 10 percent of $100,000 bail, is charged with first-degree arson, causing a catastrophe, failure to prevent a catastrophe, criminal mischief, tampering with fire apparatus or property and recklessly endangering another person.
His arrest has improved morale among the firefighters, borough Fire Marshal Rob Powers said Thursday.
“There were so many suspicions … It’s a big sigh of relief that Javier confessed to it. There’s no guessing anymore,” Powers said, adding that McMillan will be formally expelled as a member of the fire department at the next board meeting.
It was at 10:42 a.m. on April 7 when the automatic fire alarm sounded as a result of the sprinkler system activation at the firehouse, located at 107 W. Roland Road. At the time, there were three people in the fire station — two paramedics, Patrick Adams and Mark Ragone, who had returned from a medical call about 20 minutes prior to the fire call — and McMillan, who had been living in the bunk room of the fire station on the second floor.
Adams quickly determined the fire was located in a locked TV room on the second floor.
“On the arrival of Patrick Adams, (McMillan) was already on the second floor. (McMillan) provided the lock code to Patrick Adams to gain access to the TV room,” according to the affidavit of probable cause against McMillan, written by Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division Detective Andrew McFarland.
The TV room was full of smoke, but there was no visible fire. A thermal imaging camera located the fire in a stuffed chair at the far left of the doorway, up against a wall. The burning chair was directly under one of two sprinkler heads, which activated and consequently contained the fire.
Parkside Police Sgt. William Paul, county Detective Lt. Scott Bireley and Pennsylvania State Police Trooper John Stewart assisted in determining the origin of the fire.
According to the affidavit, on the day of the fire it was raining and the temperature was in the upper 50s.
“The investigation into the origin and cause of the fire determined the fire originated in the stuffed chair. It was determined to be incendiary in nature and intentionally started with an open flame such as a match or lighter applied to the fabric of the chair,” the affidavit states. “As part of the investigation, the chair from the fire scene was taken and test burns were conducted. The test showed the fire was started with an open flame applied to the chair fabric and would have reached the temperature (158 degrees F) needed to activate the sprinkler heads in less than two minutes. The lack of smoke damage in the room was the result of the quick activation of the sprinkler system. The test also showed the person responsible for starting the fire would have had little time to leave the building prior to the alarm activation.”
Medics Adams and Smith told investigators they had returned from a call and were only in the station about 20 minutes when the alarm sounded. They were not aware of anyone else in the station. All the station doors were closed and locked, and wither a key or knowledge of the access code is necessary is enter the station.
“Not until the fire alarm sounded did they know Javier McMillan was in the bunk room,” the affidavit states.
McMillan, a student at Penncrest High School, was living in the bunkhouse, the affidavit states. He told investigators that he was not in school because of an in-service day – a statement later determined false by school authorities, the affidavit states.
During a later interview with investigators, the affidavit states, McMillan said he lost his lighter several weeks before the fire. He said he found it in the chair where the fire originated, but lost it again and had no idea where it was, according to the affidavit.
“The day of the fire, the second floor of the firehouse was photographed, including the bunk room where (McMillan) was said to be sleeping…In the photographs, there were two lights in plain view on the night table next to (McMillan’s) bed. On the same table were the rest of (McMillan’s) belongings which included a remote-control car and cans of liquid fuel for the car,” the affidavit states.
According to the affidavit, James Smithman, a trustee for the fire company, said trustees were in the process of having McMillan removed from staying at the firehouse “due to issues in the firehouse and (McMillan) was aware of the upcoming actions of the trustees,” the affidavit states.
On Thursday, Powers declined to speculate why McMillan would have set the fire.
“I have no idea what is inside his head,” Powers said.
Powers said McMillan was not living at the firehouse full time but was permitted to sleep there, an arrangement that began about a year ago.
“I know he was struggling,” Powers said. “He had nowhere to live.”
Powers described the arrangement as not only “taking the kid off the streets,” but also a means to provide an environment in which he could learn more about the fire service.
“It didn’t happen,” he said.
McMillan’s introduction on his Facebook page reads, “Step into my shoes and life you will see the pain and suffering until then you will never understand.”
Three days after the fire, as the investigation was in full swing, the following message was posted on his Facebook page: “So much for being a brother hood I thought we help each other not put one another down but hey it’s ok.” The message included two Smiley emojis, one upside down and the other reaching for a hug.
McMillan, one of about 15 active members of the firehouse, was pursuing his certification but was having a hard time passing the course, Powers said. Still, his presence and efforts around the station and at scenes made him part of the team.
“It was demoralizing,” Powers said of the ordeal.
Due to the fire, the department was out of service for two days, Powers said. The majority of damages were confined to five offices and the TV lounge on the second floor, with some water and smoke damages to a kitchen area on the first floor.
Though bills are still coming in, Powers on Thursday estimated damages at around $225,000, primarily due to a computer system that had been installed in the offices about a month prior to the fire.
“We have the computer back running and we put in a surveillance system, but there are still some electronic issues,” Powers said Friday. “We’re still not fully operational … we’re about 90 percent.”
It was not known if McMillan had retained an attorney.
A preliminary hearing is listed for June 16 in Brookhaven District Court.
Story courtesy of By Rose Quinn, Delaware County Daily Times
That scum put a black eye on our profession. I hope he get the full extent of the law thrown at him.