Flint, MI– In the coming months, Flint’s Fire Department is set to have its own certified arson investigator—an asset it hasn’t had in years. 

Fire Chief Raymond Barton said one of the department’s firefighters will be going through an arson program to become certified. Once that happens, the department won’t have to wait for someone from the Michigan State Police to come to Flint, investigate a suspicious fire, and declare it an arson.

This is good news for the department, Barton said. Right now, the fire department can only declare a fire as “suspicious,” and the number of suspicious fires in Flint are not recorded. 

Arsons are recorded, but only a certified investigator can declare a fire as arson. Flint had certified arson investigators two mayoral administrations ago, Barton said, but the State took the program over after finding out arsons were not being reported correctly. 

So for the past few years, the fire department has had to call in MSP to investigate suspicious fires and get that arson declaration. 

The problem for Flint is that MSP serves multiple communities, so they can’t always get to Flint fires right away. If they can’t get down for a day or two, any evidence that was left might already be destroyed. 

“Like at nightime, if there’s no witnesses or something … the state might come in the next day or two or three days later,” Barton said. “But when we have our own person, we can get them out there the day of.” 

According to the Flint Police Department’s crime mapping tool, there have been three declared arsons just in August. As of Aug. 29, there have been 36 arsons in Flint so far this year which is a 28.57-percent increase from the 28 arsons at this time last year. 

But Barton said that sounds worse than it might actually be. He estimated that about ten of those fires happened at the Richfield Court apartments, which have since been boarded up.

“So it’s not really a big increase, it’s just that we had multiple incidents at those apartments, so of course that kicked the numbers up,” Barton said. He said those apartments have not had more fires since getting secured. 

In December of last year, Barton said he believed there was an arsonist on Flint’s east side due to a number of fires at vacant structures all in the same vicinity, in the area of Franklin Ave and Dort Highway, and Stewart Ave and Davison Rd.

Since then, he said fires in that area have “died down.”

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...