- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

STODDARD, N.H. (AP) - The fire chief in Stoddard, New Hampshire, said Wednesday he’s implementing a plan to prevent future employees from committing arson after the recent arrest of a volunteer firefighter.

Chief Stephen McGerty said that David Plante has been suspended from the Stoddard Fire and Rescue Department. Plante, who is charged with two counts of arson, is accused of setting two fires that burned hundreds of acres, forced the evacuation of 17 homes and caused $500,000 worth of damage to utility equipment.

Plante’s attorney says he has suffered from mental health issues, and McGerty called him a “troubled firefighter.”

“Our heart goes out to his family that now will bear the burden of his arrest,” McGerty said in a statement.

The National Volunteer Fire Council estimates there are about 100 firefighters a year arrested on arson charges. McGerty said his department is adopting new policies to prevent the problem, although he did not elaborate on them in his statement. He did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

“I would encourage all fire rescue department to consider adopting best practices for mitigation and prevention of this unfortunate problem,” McGerty said.

WMUR-TV reports (https://bit.ly/26uwmoE) police said in court paperwork that Plante admitted starting one fire using a glass bottle to magnify sunlight. Investigators said he set the other one with a flint lighter.

Plante’s lawyer, Kathryn Polonsky, has asked for a psychological evaluation, saying Plante was suffering from anxiety and depression. She did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

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