A firefighter is behind bars charged with arson after police say a blaze at the Albany Volunteer Fire Department was an inside job.
Residents in Albany are breathing a sigh of relief after police say they've caught the arsonist who torched the town's brand new fire house.
"We're glad there's been an arrest made. I think a lot of people are going to sleep better tonight knowing that it's sort of come to an end," said Chief Donald Peters of the Albany Volunteer Fire Dept.
On Sunday, firefighters watched their building burn. The flames trapped their tools inside.
"You know, everything's right there to fight the fire, but you just can't get to it to do so," Assistant Chief Josh Pilbin said Sunday.
Police say the arsonist used a passcode to access the station's back door. But was it an inside job?
Elmer "James" Joerg was one of the first volunteer firefighters on scene. Sunday, he told WCAX News how frustrated he was by the crime.
"If somebody calls for help tomorrow I don't know what we're going to do," Joerg said. "We're hoping that the insurance will help us out but 90-percent loss is unbelievable."
Prior to the blaze, Joerg was soliciting equipment donations from Boston and New Jersey, upset the department's newest pumper was from 1976. This arson was just another blow.
"We're just devastated by this because we have limited resources here now everything is gone by one person," Joerg said.
Police now say that one person is James Joerg. The 45-year-old firefighter is charged with second-degree arson and reckless endangerment, allegations he denied in court.
"We did have suspicion. We started eliminating who it could and couldn't be," Chief Peters said.
Police say game cameras setup in the station caught Joerg in the act. He later confessed from the hospital after being admitted for an unknown illness. He told police he ripped down the smoke detectors, turned the stove on high, ignited cardboard and tossed the burning paper into one of the fire trucks.
"It's surprising when you see somebody quite often and to know that they could do something like that," said Bernie Alden. He lost his own store to a fire a few weeks ago. It sits right next to the firehouse. He says Joerg's confession makes him wonder.
"Who knows? I mean the fire investigators think it had started in the pizza oven, but now there's that question," Alden said.
According to court papers, Joerg told police he had frequent urges to set fires and admitted he was dangerous and wouldn't have minded dying in the firehouse arson.
"I think we got a good fire group, too. Just one of them things. Just one nut in the barrel," said Carl Chaffee, the chair of the Albany select board.
This is not Joerg's first brush with the law. In 2008, police say he reported being shot during a gun sale in Morgan. He was later charged with making a false report after police discovered he made up the story and shot himself in the arm.
And in 1999, Joerg's Holland home burned down, killing his father-in-law. That blaze was initially blamed on the 73-year-old falling asleep with a cigarette, but now state police investigators say there are going to take a fresh look at Joerg's entire history.
Joerg is being held for lack of $250,000 bail. A judge also ordered a competency and sanity evaluation.
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