published Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Fire department to learn about gang awareness


by Jacqueline Koch
Audio clip

Randy Parker

Some Chattanooga firefighters noticed people acting suspiciously near their fire station earlier this year and suspected gangs were in the neighborhood.

Fire Chief Randy Parker said he met with police Chief Freeman Cooper and the commander of the police gang unit, and he sent some firefighters to the police department's in-service training on gang activity.

"They had some concerns about gang activity, and they were seeing an upsurge and they just had some questions," Chief Parker said.

The firefighters found the class so valuable they suggested all firefighters learn about gangs. Chattanooga police will teach gang awareness during the fire department's in-service training in early January.

"It's just basically awareness of what things mean, what you see, what to look for," Chief Parker said.

While the fire department hasn't had much experience with gangs, it has investigated gang-related firebombings.

The first occurred in summer 2008 after an East Lake Courts man was stabbed to death. Two cars and a house were hit by Molotov cocktails. Montez Menifee pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of an explosive device in the case.

In October, fire investigators arrested four people, including two members of the Bloods gang, in connection with two September firebombings, records show. Molotov cocktails were thrown into occupied homes at 4813 and 4814 Tomahawk Trail on Sept. 30, and police suspected a feud between gangs.

Authorities arrested Courtney High, Dejon Cagle, Ciara White and Dutchess Lykes. Each was charged with two counts of aggravated arson, said Sgt. Jerri Weary, Chattanooga police spokeswoman.

Those cases are pending in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Knowing about gangs will help firefighters stay safe, Chief Parker said.

"The biggest thing, I think, is for the safety of the firefighters and safety of the public," he said. "A lot of times criminal activity is tied to arson and vice versa."

Chattanooga officers have taught fire department in-service classes before and visited fire halls to teach specific station crews about gang activity, Chief Cooper said.

Officers teach gang awareness in schools and to community and neighborhood watch groups, he added.

"It's all just part of (those) partnerships that we have to have throughout the city because we can't be everywhere all the time," Chief Cooper said. "It's just eyes and ears out there to assist police in our attempt to eradicate the gang activity in this area."

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