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18-year-old tells officials: I set fire at library so I could help put it out

BROOKSVILLE — Joseph M. Brannen told authorities he set the July 6 fire at the East Hernando Branch Library so that he could join Hernando firefighters in putting it out.

Brannen, 18, was arrested on Friday on one count of second-degree arson.

The call on the fire came during the early hours of the morning, and when firefighters arrived at the library at 6457 Windmere Road in Ridge Manor West, they found wicker chairs piled against the back door on fire. The fire set off sprinklers inside the library.

They also found Brannen in the area, wearing the bunker gear of a firefighter. When questioned by deputies about his presence, Brannen said he wanted to be a firefighter so he purchased the bunker gear from eBay.

He told them he had heard the fire call over his scanner so he came to the scene, which was just down the street from where he was staying with his aunt. Brannen did not participate in helping to extinguish the fire.

When investigators from the state fire marshal's office and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office interviewed Brannen on Friday, he provided them details of how he had gotten into the screened reading room at the library and set the fire.

His interest in firefighting is clear from his page on Facebook, where he posted pictures of himself in his gear and where he claimed to be employed by Hillsborough Fire and Rescue. Brannen told authorities that he intended to work there, but he didn't actually work there.

Brannen, who also says on Facebook that he attended Hernando High School and lives in Riverview, pleaded no contest to a charge of petty theft in 2008, and adjudication was withheld, according to records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The fire at the library will likely keep the library closed for months. Damages will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, county officials have said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

18-year-old tells officials: I set fire at library so I could help put it out 07/22/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 22, 2013 11:11pm]
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