An Eau Claire County firefighter is charged with two counts of arson.
According to the criminal complaint 29-year-old Joseph Thalacker convinced an Osseo teenager to set several grass fires in the Augusta area, all so that he could earn a little extra cash at his $8 per hour job as an Augusta-Bridge Creek fire fighter.
The more than 40 firefighters that make up the Augusta Bridge-Creek Fire Department say they're much closer to one another than your average co-workers.
“Yeah, it's a big family, truthfully because lets face it, we depend on other people to save your life if need be,” Ken Zich, the Augusta Bridge-Creek Fire Chief says.
Which is why when a firefighter breaks the trust of the team, they say it hurts a whole lot more.
“Well to have it happen under your own nose is really something that is frustrating and disappointing. It makes you feel a little inadequate I guess,” Zich says.
According to the criminal complaint, Joseph Thalacker convinced 18-year-old Osseo-Fairchild student Shawn Yule to set several grass fires, so that Thalacker could earn some extra money helping to fight them.
The two men have been charged in Eau Claire County Court with two felony counts of arson of property other than a building as a party to a crime, each. Thalacker has also been charged with two counts of felony misconduct.
As to the motive, Eau Claire County District Attorney Rich White, says money is one of the most common reasons for arson. “The two spectrums that I really think are most common are exactly that, financial gain or revenge or retribution,” White says.
But, Zich just hopes the bad actions of one, doesn't scar the entire department.
“I'm hoping it doesn't mar the fire departments reputation in any way. We have a great bunch of people and we've done some real fine things over the years,” Zich says.
Zich tells us the fire department always investigates each fire it responds to and from now on he says crew members will have to raise their awareness level even more.
Thalacker is no longer a firefighter at the department. If convicted, Thalacker could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.