Cops: Man sets fire while stealing gas

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A volunteer Freeport firefighter illegally siphoned gasoline from his fire chief's truck using a wet/dry vacuum, igniting a blaze at the firehouse when the machine tipped over and caught fire, authorities said Tuesday in announcing the firefighter's arrest on an arson charge.

Friends of the firefighter, Steven Pena, 23, posted his $5,000 bail later in the day.

On Saturday afternoon, Pena -- who told cops he was living at the firehouse because the bank took his parents' home -- used an extension cord to hook up the vacuum to put the fuel into a 2000 Mitsubishi he'd brought to the firehouse, according to court documents.

"I didn't need the gas, but my mother did so she could get to work," Pena wrote in a confession in court records. "I know about cars and how they work, so I uninstalled the fuel line."

Police said the electrical current contacted the gas and its fumes. Sparks were ignited, prosecutor Gregory Murphy said at Pena's arraignment Tuesday before District Court Judge Tricia M. Ferrell. Two volunteer village firefighters were hurt attempting to extinguish the flames at the No. 5 firehouse on Leonard Avenue.

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Police said Pena initially claimed the fire was caused by a lit cigarette.

P. Spike Kauffman, the Legal Aid lawyer representing Pena, said the department vehicle destroyed in the incident was not being used for emergency response and had a broken transmission. He said Pena had gone to automotive school and worked at car dealerships.

Pena, who has a youthful offender robbery conviction, appeared in a virtually empty courthouse -- a building devoid of personnel and attorneys coping with damage wrought by superstorm Sandy.

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The judge said those staffing arraignments have storm-related fallout to deal with, too. But, she said: "When people do stupid things, we've got to come to work."

With John Valenti

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