UPDATED – Two Prince George’s County volunteers charged with arson. Former Riverdale firefighter & author Jerry Engle, along with Montgomery County career firefighter James Martinez indicted today.

Above is the raw video of  Part 1 from our May 6, 2009 interview with Jerry Engle. Click here for Part 2

Watch 9NEWS NOW 6:00 PM story

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s press release and the indictment

Read statement from Riverdale VFD

Read PGFD press release

Read May 6, 2009 story about our interview with Jerry Engle along with links to previous stories

Watch 9NEWS NOW story from May 6, 2009

A volunteer firefighter who told fire investigators earlier this year about a firefighter arson ring operating in Prince George’s County has been indicted on charges he set fire to a vacant Riverdale Park, Maryland home. Forty-six-year-old Jerry Engle is accused of breaking into the home at 5413 Riverdale Road on March 17, 2008 and setting it on fire. At the time Engle was a member of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department.

5413 Riverdale Road on March 17, 2008 from the Riverdale VFD website.
5413 Riverdale Road on March 17, 2008 from the Riverdale VFD website.

Charged with Engle is 24-year-old James Martinez. Martinez was also a member of Riverdale VFD and is a career firefighter in Montgomery County, Maryland. Both Martinez and Engle responded to the early morning house fire as part of the firefighting crew from Riverdale.

On April 21, 2009 first broke the news about the investigation of a firefighter arson ring in Prince George’s County. At the time a handful of volunteer members at Riverdale had been suspended.

Sources confirmed that Jerry Engle provided information about firefighter arsons to Prince George’s County fire investigators. Engle made the accusations after he was investigated for stealing firefighting equipment from the Riverdale station. At the time Engle, who has been associated with at least four volunteer companies in the county, was riding with the neighboring Riverdale Heights station.

On May 5 Engle gave an extensive interview to about his actions in the hours prior to the fire on Riverdale Road and other related topics. The tape of that interview was subpoenaed by fire investigators.

Engle told he watched as three firefighters set the vacant house on fire. According to Engle, he left an anonymous letter for the chief and president of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department alerting them to this serious problem. Engle says no actions were taken.

Engle claims the episode began when he drove the fire engine to check out a report of smoke in the area during the overnight hours. According to Engle, he waited inside the cab of the engine as the three other firefighters on board walked toward the home carrying road flares. Thinking that was odd, Engle says he followed the firefighters and saw them using the flares to ignite debris inside the house. Engle claimed that James Martinez was part of the crew on the fire engine that morning.

According to Engle, he drove the fire engine with the crew back to the Riverdale firehouse a few blocks away. Once there, Engle says two firefighters then left the fire station with a gasoline can. A short time later the call was dispatched for a house fire at 5413 Riverdale Road.

Jerry Engle in July, 2008.
Jerry Engle in July, 2008.

Jerry Engle contacted immediately after a May 4 raid at the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department. Fire investigators served a search warrant looking for evidence of an arson ring. Engle said at the time a warrant was also served at the Bowie area home where he was living.

Jerry Engle denied being involved in the Riverdale Road fire or setting any other fires, but admitted investigators have questioned him extensively about the arsons. Engle told us he wanted the investigators to administer a polygraph examination to prove his innocence. It is not known if that ever happened.

Engle believes the investigators were already looking at the possibility firefighters were involved in a string of arsons when he provided the information about the Riverdale fire.

According to area fire department websites the same house also burned two days earlier in the early morning hours of March 15, 2008 and possibly in the evening hours of March 16, 2007.

James Martinez picture from PGFD
James Martinez picture from PGFD

This is the account of the March 17, 2008 fire posted on the Riverdale VFD website. It has some similarities to the version of events provided by Jerry Engle in the May  5  interview. (Click here for the description of the fire and pictures from the Bladensburg VFD website.)

At about 0545 hours, a citizen heading to work called the station stating he smelled what seem to be mulch burning in the area of Tanglewood Drive and Riverdale Road. He added that he did not see any smoke or fire in the area. The station notified Public Safety Communications (PSC) and responded to the location with E807 staffed with 8 volunteers. After arriving in the area and finding nothing the crew returned to the station.

As they were heading back to bed, PSC alerted the station for a reported house on fire at Kenilworth Avenue and Riverdale Road at 0621 hours. E807 went on scene at 5413 Riverdale Road with fire and heavy smoke coming from the 3 story vacant structure. 

Above, Jerry Engle in happier times at the Kentland VFD. This is part of the video that surfaced in July, 2008  of apparent hazing and the shooting of illegal fireworks inside the Kentland firehouse. Engle can be seen using his body as a launching pad for bottle rockets. Click here, here and here to read more about this episode. Click here to watch our interview with Engle about the videos.

Engle has long been a controversial figure in the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department. He wrote a book called Probie Days about Engle’s many years with the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department, one of the busiest volunteer fire companies in the world.

Last year, videos surfaced of Engle’s time at Kentland. It showed firefighters apparently hazing a new firefighter and shooting off illegal fireworks inside the station. Engle was seen using his body as a launching pad for a bottle rocket.

In May, Engle was driving a red Volkswagen adorned with numerous pieces of small fire equipment, including nozzles and axes. Many firefighters who have seen the vehicle questioned how Engle got the equipment. Engle said in his interview none of the items were stolen, but they are surplus equipment he was allowed to take from the various stations where he was a volunteer.

Engle admits his departures from the volunteer fire departments at Kentland, Riverdale and Bladensburg each involved controversy. Engle was suspended from the Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department in March following the accusations that he stole items while his company was transferred to the Riverdale station. Engle says the nozzle and nozzle bale he took were his own that he had left behind after parting ways with Riverdale VFD last year.

Back in May Engle said he was told by a top official in the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department that he is now permanently barred from being a firefighter in the county.

The Riverdale VFD has issued a statement indicating both Engle and Martinez had been dismissed for “unrelated reasons” prior to Riverdale officials becoming aware of the investigation (Engle rode at both Bladensburg VFD and Riverdale Heights VFD after leaving Riverdale). Here is an excerpt from the statement:

These indictments should in no way reflect on the sincere dedication that the majority of volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel put forth each and every day protecting life and property. The Riverdale Fire Department and the many other volunteer departments continue to provide a professional and competent volunteer force answering the majority of fire and EMS service calls during nights, weekends, and holidays due to the County’s budgetary constraints.

Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service officials tell us Firefighter Martinez remains on administrative leave with pay as he has since late April.

Jerry Engle faces the possibility of 51-years in prison on charges of second degree arson, burglary, conspiracy to commit second degree arson, burning with intent to defraud and malicious burning.

The same charges were filed against James Martinez along with making a false report. He faces up to 54-years in prison.

Mug shot of Jerry Engle from the Prince George's County Department of Corrections
Mug shot of Jerry Engle from the Prince George's County Department of Corrections

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