Local News

April 27, 2014

Firefighter charged with arson

A firefighter with the Whitfield County Fire Department will be placed on leave after he was arrested on Friday for arson, said Mike Babb, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners.

Matthew Carl Gibson, 40, of 330 Concord Road, LaFayette, a full-time firefighter, was charged with arson after an investigation by the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens’ office determined he set fire to his home, at 692 Eber Road in southern Whitfield County on Feb. 16, according to a news release from Hudgens’ office.

Damage to the home was estimated to be more than $130,000, according to the release.

Babb didn’t know any other details of the leave on Sunday afternoon, but said “he will not be performing the duties of fireman until this is settled.” He said he and other county officials will be making the decision whether to put him on paid or unpaid leave this week after they “have a chance to properly look at everything” involved with the case.

“Obviously we would not have anyone in this position that has a felony count against him,” Babb said. “Everybody’s innocent until proven guilty.”

Gibson has been with the department for between six months and a year, Babb said. Most firefighters are hired on full time after serving first as volunteers, but Babb didn’t know if that was the case with Gibson.

“I hate it,” Babb said. “It only takes one bad apple to reflect on the whole group. The state fire marshal’s office thinks we have a bad apple. I hate it for everyone who has taken time to dedicate service to Whitfield County. I’ll be interested in knowing all the circumstances behind it.”

Babb said he was notified by email late Friday afternoon Gibson had been arrested so he hasn’t had a chance to look at more details of the arrest or charge.

Gibson is not related to county administrator Mark Gibson, Babb said.

Glenn Allen, spokesman for Hudgens’ office, said they are not releasing how the fire was set.

First-degree arson is a felony with a penalty of one to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $50,000.

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