Police: Strinestown firetruck thief was former junior firefighter

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A 15-year-old boy drove off in a firetruck from the Strinestown Community Fire Co. station over the weekend after walking out of a juvenile facility in Springettsbury Township and stealing a county-owned vehicle he drove to the station, officials said.

It happened in the early-morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 12, according to Northern York County Regional Police — one of three local police departments investigating the teen's actions.

Police said the teen stole a county-owned Ford Explorer from the parking lot of the York County Youth Development Center after leaving the facility and drove the SUV to the Strinestown station.

Northern Regional Police said this firetruck was stolen from the Strinestown Community Fire Co. station by a 15-year-old ex-junior firefighter about 1:20 a.m. Aug. 12, 2018.

The youth who stole the SUV had walked out of the Youth Development Center but was not an escapee, county spokesman Mark Walters confirmed.

The facility is not a juvenile detention center, Walters said, and youths don't have to be in legal trouble, or be legally detained, to be placed there.

Buckled door: Once at Strinestown's fire station in the 5600 block of Susquehanna Trail in Conewago Township, the teen pulled the SUV up against one of the station's garage-bay doors about 1:15 a.m., police said.

He drove forward very slowly, just until the door buckled, according to Northern Regional Deputy Chief Dave Lash.

"Just enough for him to get inside," he said.

Once in the station, the teen donned firefighter turnout gear, hopped inside the Rescue 26 firetruck and took off, police said.

The teen previously served as a junior firefighter for Strinestown and also previously lived near the station, Lash said.

Several people called 911 to report that a firetruck was being driven erratically in the central and eastern parts of York County, primarily on Route 30, Lash said.

Strinestown Community Fire Company Station 26 was broken into overnight Saturday, August 11, 2018, and the perpetrator dressed in turnout gear and stole Rescue 26 for a joy ride. John A. Pavoncello photo

Siren, no lights: The truck's siren was activated, but its overhead lights weren't on, he said.

Police said they later found the truck stuck in a muddy field off Freysville Road in Hellam Township, after callers reported seeing a male in firefighter gear fleeing the area.

Lash said the firetruck was driveable and had no severe damage but noted that the truck hasn't yet been thoroughly inspected.

The Ford Explorer sustained minimal damage to its front bumper, according to Lash.

Hellam Township Police tracked down the teen about noon Sunday, and he was taken back to the Youth Development Center, Lash said.

The stolen firefighter gear — boots, pants, helmet and jacket — were all recovered, he said.

Police said the teen who stole Strinestown Community Fire Co.'s Rescue 26 truck had to abandon it and flee on foot after getting the truck stuck in mud in Hellam Twp. on Aug. 12, 2018.

Caught on quickly: Strinestown Fire Chief Frosty Wertz said the young man was only a junior firefighter for a short time but was quite active during those few weeks.

"He just started hanging out here (at the station) one day and was interested," the fire chief said, and he joined as a junior member.

"We were training him," Wertz explained, as they do all junior firefighters. "Apparently, he caught on very quickly."

That was evident because the burglar knew where things were inside the station and also knew what to do when the stolen firetruck became mired in mud in Hellam Township.

"He used cribbing to try to lift the vehicle up," Wertz said.

Cribbing can be blocks of wood or plastic firefighters can slide under the tires to free mired trucks. In this case, the teen either was unable to free the truck or gave up trying because police said he fled the scene on foot.

"He was putting into practice some of the things he learned while here," the chief said.

Police said a 15-year-old former Strinestown junior firefighter stole Strinestown's Rescue 26 truck and drove in to Hellam Twp, where it became mired in mud on Aug. 12, 2018.

Fire chief relieved: Wertz said he's relieved no one was hurt.

"I'm just so glad he didn't hit anybody," Wertz said, and he also is glad the teen sunk the truck in mud while trying to make a turn in Hellam Township, effectively ending his lengthy joyride.

Wertz said one of the station's bay doors is damaged but that it appears the fire truck wasn't. A mechanic will inspect the truck Tuesday to make sure of it, he said.

A firefighter drove the rig back to the fire station after a local towing company pulled it from the mud, according to the chief.

And, Wertz noted, police recovered and returned the stolen turnout gear.

"We were fortunate. It could have been a lot worse," he said.

Wertz acknowledged that it's "like a slap in the face to the department" that the teen chose to target the station after firefighters tried to mentor him.

The teen didn't leave the fire company on bad terms; he merely drifted away, according to Wertz.

Wertz said he and other firefighters "pretty much had our suspicions" that the teen was behind the truck theft and burglary. He said those suspicions were immediately relayed to police.

Charges filed: Springettsbury Township Police have filed juvenile charges of theft and receiving stolen property against the teen for taking the Ford Explorer, according to township Sgt. Brian Wilbur.

Northern Regional Police continue to investigate the burglary of the Strinestown fire station and the theft of Rescue 26, according to Lash, who said that once news of the theft hit social media, a number of people reported having seen the stolen firetruck.

Anyone with any information about the thefts of the vehicles and the burglary of the fire station is asked to call Northern Regional Police's tip line at 717-467-TELL, or email information to tips@nycrpd.org.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.