TFD Chief asks community to respect court processWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
The arrest of the owner of the building where two Toledo firefighters were fatally injured Jan. 26 has “unleashed negative emotion” within Toledo Fire & Rescue Department, Chief Luis Santiago said during a news conference Feb. 3. But his department is committed to letting the justice system do its job, he said, and he asked that community members do the same.
Ray Abou-Arab, 61, of Oregon, owner of the 528 Magnolia St. building where Pvt. Stephen Machcinski and Pvt. James Dickman were fatally injured fighting a fire, was arrested Jan. 31 and charged with two counts of aggravated arson and two counts of aggravated murder. According to filed court documents, Abou-Arab allegedly “used and ignited an ignitable liquid inside the garage” to cause the fire.
“[The arrest] has unleashed a negative emotion, I cannot lie about that,” Santiago said. “We’ve had discussions before when we’ve had rashes of fires and suspected arsons [and] at that time I told you it’s personal. Well, I will tell you as I stand here right now it doesn’t get any more personal.
“But with that being said, we understand the country we live in, we understand there’s a criminal justice system and it is our position that we are going to exercise great restraint and discipline and respect the system that’s in place.
“I’ve read some of the social media that’s going on,” Santiago added. “There’s a lot of folks that are jumping to conclusions and wanting to express themselves in a very assuming way. I ask for them to exercise that same discipline we are and let the system and the process work.”
Abou-Arab appeared in court Feb. 3, where his bond was set at $5 million. Dozens of firefighters were in attendance. His next hearing is set for Feb. 10.
Santiago and Mayor D. Michael Collins both declined to comment on the ongoing court case as well as the circumstances of the fire. Santiago said it would be “quite sometime,” at least 30 days, before the details of the circumstances surrounding the fire will be able to be released.
They also declined to comment on previous fires reported at properties owned by Abou-Arab.
Santiago said TFD is doing an internal investigation of the handling of events at the fire. He also said the department is working with individual firefighters who may need time off or grief counseling.
Both Collins and Santiago gave brief remarks, thanking the community for their support.
“The expressions of support and kind words and random acts of compassion and support by many members of the public has been to us as firefighters overwhelming,” Santiago said.
Collins said the two firefighter deaths have been “one of the most traumatic and … gut-wrenching experiences” the City of Toledo has experienced in years, but that all facets of Toledo and surrounding communities – from residents to business owners to religious communities – have united to show support.
“Any of you who witnessed the residents of this community standing there in the unfortunately elements of the weather on Saturday through the frigid rain and those riveting winds and saw the expressions on their faces, that certainly speaks to the quality of the community and it certainly defines a community that has come together in its most adverse time,” Collins said. “As mayor, I have to say that I have the utmost privilege of serving in a community that has demonstrated the compassion that has been demonstrated over the past week.”
He also remarked on the compassion of the staff at Mercy St. Vincent Hospital, where the two men were treated before they died.
Collins also said there would be no “forgotten Monday,” in reference to a comment made at the Last Alarm ceremony that media will eventually move on to the next story but that the families and firefighting community affected by the tragedy would eventually experience the proverbial “Monday morning.”
“In many of the issues in life, Monday comes and Monday goes, but in this situation I assure you that, based upon my sense of this community, there will be no forgotten Monday,” Collins said.