CINCINNATI (AP) – A blaze in a home that left a firefighter dead was arson, authorities said Monday as they pledged an intensive homicide investigation.
Patrick Wolterman, 28, died at a hospital soon after entering the smoke-filled home early on Dec. 28 and falling through a floor into a basement. It was the first death in the line of duty since 1971 for the fire department in Hamilton, some 30 miles north of Cincinnati.
Hamilton officials declined immediately to discuss the findings that led to the ruling about the blaze.
Police Chief Craig Bucheit said police give their best efforts investigating any loss of life from a criminal act, but he acknowledged that this case takes on added meaning.
“It’s different because we know how devastating this loss has been to Patrick’s family, his fellow firefighters and our entire community,” Bucheit said. “But I can assure you we will tirelessly examine every piece of evidence, pursue every lead and work every angle of this investigation until we deliver justice to those who are responsible.”
First responders learned later that the couple who lived there was away on vacation. Authorities have said a security alarm was triggered just before 911 calls about a fire.
A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the identification of suspects and their conviction. Bucheit said that they have already received “a lot of tips” that are being checked out and that they are interested in anything people have seen or heard about the fire.
An investigative task force on the fire includes Hamilton, Butler County, state and federal investigators, police said.
Uniformed firefighters from across the country were among thousands of people who turned out Dec. 31 for a memorial service and funeral procession to honor Wolterman.
He had joined the Hamilton Fire Department in April after several years of experience with local township fire departments, and he was married in May. Hamilton’s fire chief announced at the memorial service that Wolterman’s badge No. 89 was being retired.
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