Cannelton, IN – Volunteer Fire Chief Christopher Herzog was recently arrested for attempting to prevent a police officer from making a fire worse. However, the police version of the story makes it sound like Herzog was some crazed assailant attacking heroes. Now, the firefighter is facing a felony.
When kindergartners are taught to “stop drop and roll,” they are also taught that fire feeds on oxygen and that sometimes a suddenly opened door or window could cause a fire. Unfortunately, Cannelton police officer Ryen Foertsch did not get the memo.
Foertsch was at the location of the fire and in plain clothes, not dressed as an officer and was attempting to smash in one of the windows of the house, a move that could have obviously made the fire far worse. Herzog arrived on the scene to witness the blunder, and attempted to prevent the officer from literally adding fuel to the fire, and tried to get him away from the house.
Sensing that his authority was being threatened, Foertsch arrested the fire chief as the house continued to burn.
To make matters worse, as the house burned, the police ordered the remaining fire crew off of the property, preventing them from doing their jobs and putting lives and property at risk. Officer Foertsch claims that Herzog was shouting obscenities at him and shoving him. However, Herzog says that he was simply attempted to diffuse a dangerous situation, and even if he was shouting at the officer, he had every right to considering the circumstances.
Chris Zukeschwerdt, the man who owns the house that was burning, was horrified by the encounter that he witnessed.
“I was in shock. When I saw the faces of those firefighters – to see their leader being pulled out of here while he was fighting a fire was just unreal,” Zukeschwerdt said.
Zukeschwerdt said that he heard the chief yell to the other firefighters to stay and make sure the fire was put out, as he was dragged away in handcuffs. However, he says that next the police officers took over the scene and ordered the firefighters to leave.
“We’re in charge of this scene now,” Zukeschwerdt says he heard an officer say. Zukeschwerdt said at that point, “a lot of the fire department guys started saying let’s grab out gear and go.”
Sadly, after the chief was arrested and the other firefighters sent away, the police officers did nothing and allowed the fire to completely destroy the house. Herzog was taken into custody and lodged in the Perry County Jail on a charge of battery against a public safety official, a level 6 felony.
Soon after the arrest, Herzog was bailed out of jail by Cannelton Mayor Mary Snyder.
It is important to note that the National Incident Management System, which sets national standards for first responders in emergencies such as this, states that the first fire unit arriving on the scene of a house fire are the ones to take command of the incident, which means that Herzog was within his rights to take charge of the situation when he arrived on the scene.
It seems that officer Foertsch was more concerned with his own ego and perceived authority than he was with saving lives, which is a dangerous consequence of giving a person unlimited power.