Cops and firefighters clashed after responding to a house fire in Indiana Tuesday, resulting in police arresting the fire chief as the house continued to go up in flames.
Cannelton police say the city’s volunteer fire chief, Christopher Herzog, pushed and shoved one of their officers, which is why they arrested him for felony battery against a police officer.
But fire fighters say Herzog was only trying to keep Cannelton police officer Ryen Foertsch from breaking a house window, which would have allowed more oxygen to enter the burning home, causing the fire to spread and the house to possibly explode.
Also, Foertsch – an award-winning officer – was not even in uniform and it was very dark, so the chief may not have even realized he was a cop, according to John C. (Bull) Smith, district chairman of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association.
Foertsch, who was first to arrive on the scene, said he was trying to break the window to clear the room in case anybody was inside.
But he obviously has not been trained in how to fight fires because that is a big no-no.
Herzog was bailed out by Cannelton Mayor Mary Snyder, according to the Perry County News:
Cannelton Police Officer Ryen Foertsch and Perry County Deputy Stephen Poehlein arrived at the scene, and immediately entered the burning residence to make sure nobody was inside. After clearing two rooms of the home, smoke became too overwhelming, forcing the officers from the fire.
Once outside, Foertsch attempted to break the window of a room that he was unable to clear. Fire Chief Christopher Herzog approached Foertsch, pushed him hard enough to cause him to step back, and began shouting profanities at him, telling him to get off of his fire scene. Foertsch tried explained to Herzog what they were doing in clearing the burning home, at which point Herzog pushed Foertsch again, and again yelled profanities at Foertsch to get off of his scene.
Both officers conveyed the situation to their superiors. At the request of Cannelton Police Chief Lee Hall, troopers with the Indiana State Police were contacted to investigate the complaint. After investigating, Troopers Jeremy Galloway and Nathaniel Kern arrived at the scene of the fire and placed Herzog, 51, into custody.
Herzog was lodged in the Perry County Jail but was released in about half an hour after Cannelton Mayor Mary Snyder posted his $1,505 bond.
Police not only arrested the fire chief, but ordered the rest of the fire crew out of the area, even though the home continued to burn.
Homeowner Chris Zukeschwerdt could only watch in disbelief, according to Tristate Homepage.
“I was in shock,” says Chris Zukeschwerdt, whose house was on fire.”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 has spent 40 years as an EMT and says, “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Humphery recorded the aftermath on her cell phone. She watched first responders in blue and red butt heads, while a fire burned in the background.
“They pulled the fire chief out,” Zukeschwerdt said, while the fire was still smoldering. Humphrey saw him arrested and put in handcuffs.
Neighbors there say police officers then told Cannelton firefighters to pack up. A firefighter can be heard on video telling his crew to pick up the hoses and leave.
“We’re in charge of this scene now,” Zukeschwerdt says he heard a police officer say, “and a lot of the fire department guys started saying let’s grab out gear and go.”
Zukeschwerdt says he heard the assistant fire chief tell his firefighters to stay put and “make sure this fire is out.”
Well, it wasn’t.
The house caught fire again, and torched the rest of the house.
Even most cops commenting on the story on the Law Officer Facebook page believe the cop was out of line, saying that even though there are times when they arrive to a house fire before firefighters, they are quick to back off to let them take over once they do arrive.
Also, the National Incident Management System, which sets national standards for first responders in emergency situations, states that the first fire unit arriving on the scene of a house fire are the ones to take command of the incident.
Below is a local news report, which includes footage of the arrest and an interview with the homeowner.
PINAC Investigative Researcher Felipe Hemming contributed to this report.