Two volunteer firefighters were charged with intentionally setting five abandoned houses on fire in Central Islip and Hauppauge, Suffolk police said Tuesday, while a third firefighter was charged in connection with one of the arsons, police said.
The Central Islip volunteers allegedly poured gasoline in the homes and ignited them with a lighter, court records show. They would later respond to help extinguish those same fires, authorities said. There were no injuries, police said.
“Responding to a structure fire is extremely dangerous and what they did was put their fellow firefighters in jeopardy,” said acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, who declined to comment on any possible motive for the fires.
Austin Lehman, 19, of Vanderbilt Avenue, and Stephen Hernandez, 25, of Ridgewood Avenue, both of Central Islip, each was charged with five counts of third-degree arson, stemming from fires between October and January, police said.
A third Central Islip volunteer firefighter, Shawn Key, 27, of Chuck Boulevard, North Babylon, was charged with third-degree arson in a Nov. 22 fire, police said.
The arrests come after arson detectives noticed a pattern in the fires, Cameron said. The Central Islip Fire Department assisted in the investigation, police said.
All three volunteers pleaded not guilty in First District Court in Central Islip at their arraignment, officials said. Bail information was unclear as of late Tuesday.
Key’s attorney, James DeFelice of East Islip, said, “As the facts come out we believe that Mr. Key will be exonerated.”.
Christopher Gioe of Hauppauge, Lehman’s attorney, also said his client was innocent. “He’s a volunteer fireman. He wouldn’t be engaging in this type of conduct,” Gioe said.
Hernandez’s attorney did not return a request for comment.
Four of the fires were in Central Islip. Officials with the Central Islip Fire Department issued a statement that said they would continue to cooperate with the investigation. “This is a very serious matter and we are extremely shocked and disheartened to learn of these allegations,” said a fire department spokeswoman in a statement.
The first fire was Oct. 21 on Gates Avenue about 6 a.m., followed by Oct. 24 on Vanderbilt Avenue around 5:20 a.m., Nov. 7 on Gibbs Road about 5:50 a.m. and Nov. 22 on Oakdale Avenue around 2:20 a.m., police said.
The last fire was on Jan. 14 on Bridge Road in Hauppauge about 3:40 a.m., police said.