|Here I am with Captain Deberra Schroeder|
A little over a week ago our Sisters in Crime chapter NEOSinC had a visit from Captain Deberra Schroeder. She’s the only female fire captain in the Cleveland Fire Department, and was one of the first ten women firefighters hired in Cleveland. By the way, she said all of them should be called firefighters and not firemen no matter what the sex. As an arson investigator, Captain Schroeder is both a Cleveland Firefighter and a Cleveland Police Officer. We found Debbie not only very informative, but someone with a sense of humor, and willing to answer almost all of our questions, being careful not to give us details about any ongoing investigations.
There have been 440 fires investigated so far this year. Although, she’s the captain now, she still sometimes goes out to investigate when needed. The first thing to check is O&C – origin and cause. She listens to all the messages between the first responders and then talks to the occupants and anyone who has to leave. If someone has been seriously injured, she goes to the hospital first for his or her statement. It’s also important to write good run reports and sheets. After they investigate for arson, and decide it is, the Crime Stoppers are called in. I assume they are criminal investigators.
She told about a case when she wasn’t yet a captain, and she was with her boss. They went upstairs in a burning building checking for anyone in there and then headed for the attic which was not very big. She was on a ladder chopping holes in the wall. It was hot, and she was breathing in smoke, and was afraid. She wanted to turn around and leave, but she couldn’t leave her partner to go up there alone. I don’t remember if she said the fire had gotten up there or not, but she was so relieved to finally leave that area and get back outside. Her boss commended her for sticking with him and not leaving.
|You must go online to see the videos.|
Another fire she told us a little about was a large fire in downtown Cleveland in a tall apartment building over a restaurant. The fire had started in the 8th floor penthouse apartment. Fortunately, no one was at home in the apartment where it started, and not one of the fifty-five occupants in the forty-two units was injured although they were affected by the fire. They had no sprinkler systems in any of the apartments. She suggested that we Google 150 Prospect Fire in Cleveland to learn more about it, which I did to get the picture of it. What an incredibly scary fire that was. I not only found pictures, I watched videos of it. The fire was under investigation, but I don’t know if it still is. Any apartment building arson fire is labeled an aggravated arson. So far this year there have been twenty-one cases of aggravated arson in the Cleveland area.
There is no typical age of an arsonist. The investigators check cell phone records and bank statements of suspects to see if the owner of the house is in heavy debt and the house is insured.
She said many arsonists are stupid. For instance, the investigators check the gas stations closest to the house that had been set afire. A recent one had video surveillance of a guy, she called Smokey, filling up a gallon jug of gasoline, and he went inside to pay for it. The jug was found outside the house where he burned the apartment with a body in it. Needless, to say, he was caught.
Because we are writers, one of our members asked her to describe what the smell would be like and what would it sound like. She said that house fires generally smell like a campfire, but a car fire smells nastier like burning plastic and rubber. A house fire sounds like a freight train.
She ended the evening telling us how she was recently the victim of an attempted carjacking at a local grocery store parking lot. She’d just left the grocery store and was heading to the gas station in the same parking area. She was talking on her phone and just creeping along, and then stopped to finish her call before heading into the gas station to get gas. She’d just hung up when the passenger door opened and a masked guy in a hoodie was pointing his gun at her. He demanded she give him her keys and her phone or he’d shoot her. She told us all the things that went through her head in those few brief moments with a guy threatening her with a gun. She’d miss her grandchildren’s birthdays coming up. Her husband would never find all her paper work. Her gun was in her purse behind her seat, and she couldn’t reach it. Then her police mode kicked in. She reached her left arm down beside her seat, and then turned to him pointing a finger at him shouting “Police! Police! I have a gun, too!” in her loudest police officer’s voice. The guy turned and ran away. She followed him with her Jeep to see where he’d go while calling 911 for police backup. The guy joined another guy and they headed down a drive beside a bank across the road and were gone by the time the police got there.
Several days later, they carjacked another car belonging to an elderly woman. She tossed them the key fob, but not her keys, grabbed her purse and ran. They were caught several days later. Debbie shakes her head and says most crooks are stupid.
Have you ever witnessed a house or apartment fire?
Have you ever been a victim of a robbery or a carjacking?