Compton, CA — A former firefighter has been arrested on suspicion of arson and grand theft, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday evening.
Marcel Melanson was arrested at his home in Torrance Wednesday morning and is expected to appear in court Friday to face charges that he allegedly tried to burn down the fire department’s headquarters in order to destroy evidence of his suspected theft.
The 37-year-old former deputy chief was taken into custody in connection with a fire at the Compton Fire Department Headquarters on December 11, 2011.
Melanson is suspected of stealing thousands of dollars of Motorola radios from the department and then selling them online. The 15-year veteran is also suspected of setting fire to the department headquarters to cover his tracks.
Melanson, who became one of the youngest deputy chiefs in the nation at 33 years old, was featured on First In, a BET documentary about the Compton Fire Department, which is one of the five busiest departments in California. The heavily tattooed firefighter was also featured in Inked magazine, which said that the 84-employee department handles an average of 10,000 emergency calls a year, and has a response time of four minutes and 30 seconds. Melanson was also profiled in the Los Angeles Times in 2009.
The city of Compton eventually recovered about $300,000 from insurance for the radios. The city bought the radio and communications equipment in 2010 when it was planning to end its contract with the Sheriff’s Department and reinstate the Compton Police Department. The city spent at least $1.7 million in preparation for a new department, including more than a million on radio equipment, but the project was killed in April 2011. City officials then planned to sell the equipment to plug a $40 million budget shortfall.
Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said Melanson stole the equipment, then set a fire to cover it up.
“We don’t know what happened, but we do think it’s connected,” he said.
Marcel Melanson is being held on $250,000, and his arraignment is scheduled for Friday morning at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.