Sills: Training on Fire Engine Left Running Led to Theft Incident

By Benjamin Cox on June 7, 2021 at 6:24pm

A Jacksonville Fire Department training exercise allowed a Jacksonville man to steal a fire engine yesterday morning and take it for an illegal drive.

Jacksonville Fire Chief Doug Sills says that fire department members were going through their regular maintenance routine on the Big Eli fire engine with a new trainee for orientation yesterday while the engine was running in the front drive of the firehouse at 200 West Douglas Avenue. Sills says it was while the ride along employee and one of the driver engineers were on the floor of the apparatus going through an orientation that 30 year old Cory M. Fisher of the 900 block of Doolin Avenue walked by and then decided, for an unknown reason, to get into the cab of the engine. Sills says it was just a routine the fire department goes through every day: “Every morning, the driver engineers will start the rigs, pull them outside, and every morning they go through all of the equipment and make sure all of the gas-powered equipment runs, and all battery-powered equipment runs. It’s just basically daily checks on the rigs. So, the apparatus was sitting on the front ramp running. We had a job shadow candidate in with us yesterday. As they were on the floor of the rig just kind of doing an orientation and going through some of the specialty equipment that we carry. A gentleman came by and decided to get into Big Eli, our lead truck. Nobody noticed him in the truck because they were busy on the apparatus floor. One of the driver engineers noticed somebody had gotten into the truck but assumed it was the other driver engineer who was just going through the daily checks.”

Sills says that once the parking brake on the apparatus was released, the other firemen knew something was wrong. Sills says that the engine began a short route through the north end of town: “[Once he left the firehouse], he proceeded east on Douglas Avenue, turned north on North Main. At some point on North Main, he did a u-turn, came back on Main Street, and then, pulled back up in front of the fire station and acted like he was going to back the truck back in, put it in park, and jump out and run. Then, all of a sudden, he takes off again and heads west down Douglas Avenue. By that time, a JPD officer had come down North West Street and dropped in behind him as he was turning onto North Church Street. That’s when he smoked a street sign and we got a little cosmetic damage to the side of the rig. At that point, he was apprehended.” Fisher remains lodged at the Morgan County Jail. Fisher was initially cited with theft over $500,000; reckless driving, and driving on a suspended license.

Fisher was arraigned in Morgan County Court this morning and formally charged with aggravated unlawful possession of a stolen fire engine, and criminal trespassing to a motor vehicle. Circuit Court Judge Chris Reif set Fisher’s bond at $50,000 Monday. Fisher’s first appearance is scheduled for July 12th. Fisher was in Morgan County Court last Tuesday on a February charge of possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to 2 years adult probation.

Sills says that the two firefighters on the truck did attempt to stop Fisher: “They tried to stop him. The one engineer made the 9-1-1 call as soon they noticed that something was definitely wrong and someone was in the truck that shouldn’t be. Evidently, this guy happened to be in the area, and I don’t know what any of the specifics of his mindset were. Apparently, he thought it was alright to take a fire truck and take off with it.”

Sills says he was glad no one was hurt. He says in his 32 year of working as a firefighter, he never thought he would have a story like this happen in Jacksonville. Sills says that the fire department will be enacting some policy changes at the department during maintenance checks and training exercises so that fire engines and vehicles are not left running unattended. Sills says the fire department typically doesn’t leave their trucks running: “How can you prevent it other than having someone sticking with the rig all the time? Guys are checking things off of our equipment checks while the rig is running. Sometimes they have to go back to the tool room to maybe make some repairs or get a tool. There are times where the rigs are running out there unattended. Never would we have thought someone would come by and just hop in one and decide to take it for a drive.”

Sills is glad that no further property damage occurred in the incident and that the vehicle didn’t require severe repairs or maintain heavier damage.