Law enforcement authorities in Italy’s Ragusa Province, south of the Mediterranean island, stated on Monday that the local fire department became suspicious when it discovered that the auxiliary brigade had responded to 120 incidents compared with just 40 tackled by other volunteer teams over the same period.
Most of the remaining suspected firefighters, whose private phone calls were recorded as part of the probe, have since admitted calling the 115 emergency number or getting friends or relatives to do so.
According to Italy’s Ansa news agency, the commander of the fire brigade — a refrigeration technician identified as DDV — was considered dangerous enough to be kept under house arrest since he was suspected of continuing to start fires after others had been extinguished.
Colluding with other members of the brigade, DDV allegedly left the station in his van, lit fires or made false emergency reports, then returned and waited to be called out to put it out.
Police said he demonstrated “a sharp criminal ability and … no fear about the consequences of his behavior.”
Investigators further added in a statement that on one occasion, the commander “even spoke of wanting to set off a bomb” at the station in order to “take the money available if the emergency vehicles needed to be repaired.”
Most of the team, the report added, were under investigation for fraud, with several also suspected of arson.
The island is plagued by fires in summer and auxiliary firefighters are paid €10 per hour by the state to help put them out.