A former volunteer firefighter is cooling his heels today in the Niagara County Jail in lieu of $20,000 bail for being an alleged firebug, according to city police detectives.
Corey C. Donoughe, 19, of 17th Street, who is suspected of starting in excess of 30 fires in the area during the last eight months, was sent to jail after he pleaded innocent Friday to a second-degree arson charge in City Court. He is accused of setting fire Sept. 5 to a house at 438 Fifth St. in which an elderly man was sleeping on the second floor.
Allegations that Donoughe started five other structure fires -- at 438 15th St., 821 Lincoln Place, 421 Ninth St., 448 1/2 Fourth St. and 542 Fifth St. -- will be presented to a Niagara County grand jury for consideration, Detectives James Lincoln and William Smith said.
The grand jury also will consider allegations that Donoughe started nine dumpster fires, including five at 256 Third St.
Lincoln said he expects a combination of indictments on arson and criminal-mischief charges, as well as a criminal impersonation charge, to result from the grand jury probe.
The case began innocently enough Monday with the discovery of a lost identification wallet, or badge wallet, on the Niagara Street
School grounds. The wallet was turned over to school officials, who turned it over to the Fire Department because they thought a city firefighter had lost it.
It turned out the Niagara Falls Fire Department badge and firefighter's identification card were phony, and that Fire Chief Richard Shiah's signature on the ID card was forged.
Donoughe, decked out in firefighter apparel, was called in to the detective bureau on Thursday after fire officials discovered the wallet's contents were fakes and forgeries.
After a lengthy interview with Lincoln and Smith, it was revealed that Donoughe was more than just a firefighting enthusiast.
It became apparent that Donoughe had not only been passing himself off as a Niagara Falls firefighter -- even having it published in a local newspaper -- but admitted to setting numerous fires in the area and gave specific details about some of them and how they were started, Lincoln and Smith said.
"He fits the classic profile of a pyromaniac," Detective Capt. Louis Curcione said, citing Donoughe's obsession with fire equipment and paraphernalia and having been observed by city firefighters at the scene of numerous fires.
He even helped fire personnel to fill Scott Air-Paks at one of the Fifth Street fires and to roll up a fire hose at the Lincoln Place fire, which detectives believe he started.
Curcione also noted that Donoughe has taken the test to be a Niagara Falls firefighter.
Niagara Active Hose Company vice president Raymond Jasper said Donoughe was a senior firefighter with his company for more than a year until he developed serious problems, which led to his dismissal and arrest.
"He was thrown out when he was caught stealing fire equipment, including a $400 company pager and fire gear like helmets, coats and boots," Jasper said.
Town Police Chief John Keller said Donoughe was charged with criminal possession of stolen property last January for the thefts. Donoughe was put on probation and fined $250 after he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted criminal possession of stolen property in Town Court.
But Donoughe's alleged activities did not confine themselves to the theft of fire equipment and paraphernalia.
His presence became common at fire scenes and he was remembered as a curious observer, according to city Fire Prevention Chief John Fitzpatrick. But Fitzpatrick said fire officials did not realize Donoughe may have been starting some of the fires himself.
In the arson he currently is charged with, Donoughe allegedly started the Fifth Street home, rented by Randy Davis, on fire while Davis' elderly father was asleep upstairs, Smith said.
He said Donoughe attempted to start that fire on two occasions, using rags he found at the back of the house and igniting them on the porch. When the flames died out on the first try, Smith said Donoughe tried a second time and was successful. The flames damaged the porch, siding and roof before firefighters arrived and extinguished it, he said.
"Fortunately, the fire was spotted by a neighbor who was returning home or there could have been a serious problem," Smith said. No one was hurt in that blaze.
Lincoln said it appears Donoughe first started little fires "just to see them." Then he graduated to somewhat larger fires "to get the sirens out . . . then a garage fire, an abandoned house and then a house that was occupied," Lincoln said.
Lincoln said Donoughe is a suspect in a fire that occurred at 4:03 a.m. Jan. 4 in an apartment building at 1509 Pine Ave. Police reports state the owner, Ronald Roberts, awoke to find smoke and flames in his apartment, but was able to alert five other people who were asleep at the time. They escaped the building before anyone was hurt. Roberts was treated at Niagara Falls Memorial Center for smoke inhalation after the incident.