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Barred Mt. Oliver firefighter turns up in gear at blaze, spurs investigation

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

The Mt. Oliver Fire Department will review surveillance video from its fire station to try to determine how a former firefighter, barred for life from joining a department because of arson convictions, showed up to fight a house fire.

Francis Kestner Jr., the son of fire Chief Francis Kestner, wore Mt. Oliver fire gear at a fire on Saturday despite being dismissed from the department 10 years ago, borough officials said.

“We're going to look at all the angles and see what it shows us. We're going to dive in deep and see if anyone told him to do it,” said Tim Sherman, the fire department's vice president, who is leading the investigation. “Something is going to be done. I'm not going to stop until something is done.”

Department officials could pursue criminal charges against Kestner if he trespassed to take gear from the station, or they could discipline firefighters if they permitted him to take the gear, Sherman said.

The fire department will change department policy and stop leaving the station's garage door open during fires, Sherman said after an emergency fire board meeting on Tuesday. Kestner may have obtained the fire gear through the open garage door.

The fire heavily damaged a house on Margaret Street and caused minor damage to a neighboring house. Neighbors said a grill might have started the fire.

Kestner could not be reached for comment.

Kestner, 30, pleaded guilty to setting five unoccupied homes and a parked car on fire between September 2002 and January 2003. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel sentenced him to five years on probation. He pleaded guilty to a sex offense in 2010, went to jail for six months and was given five years on probation.

Because of his arson convictions, Kestner is barred for life from joining a fire department, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office. Aside from possibly trespassing, officials in the DA's office don't think Kestner committed a crime by being at the fire scene.

Mt. Oliver Mayor James Cassidy, a member of the fire department and a relative of the Kestners, said he worked at the fire and saw Kestner there in full fire gear. He said he did not see whether Kestner fought the fire. Kestner has been at fire scenes in the past observing firefighters, Cassidy said.

“This is the first time I've ever seen him in gear since 10 years ago,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy will not participate in the investigation. A department rule bars him from taking part in an investigation involving a relative.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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