Colleagues and friends stood up Friday for a city firefighter who pleaded not guilty to charges that he called in false alarms to stop closures at his Bronx firehouse. NY1's Vivian Lee filed the following report.
At the Ladder 53 firehouse on Bronx's City Island, at least one firefighter said he does not believe that a colleague could ever create a false alarm.
But investigators with the city's Department of Investigations and the FDNY say fireman Nicholas Vrettos, 30, did call in with a false alarm last Thursday.
"He's just a stand-up guy," said Vrettos's disbelieving colleague. "He's great, always wanted to help the brothers."
Police said Vrettos called 911 and falsely reported a fire in the cafeteria at P.S. 175, less than a quarter mile away from Ladder 53, just as Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta was announcing that Ladder 53 would close overnight along with four other fire units in the city because of budget cuts.
Sources say Vrettos may have been upset at the proposed nighttime closure of his unit, set to start next month.
A City Island local, who did not want his face shown on camera, said he grew up with Vrettos in the village-like community and that the defendant is a helpful man.
"He's very helpful, he'll never say no to a favor. He's always got a smile on his face, he's always working hard, he's very friendly," said the resident. "There's not much you could say that's bad about him."
City officials say the call about the nonexistent fire at ps 175 was made from Vrettos' auto body shop down the road.
But Tony Cuomo, a City Island resident and grandparent of a student at P.S. 175, said the prank is not excusable.
"Takes resources away from real emergencies," he said.
Other City Islanders said if the accusation is true, they do not condone such a tactic.
"It's totally inappropriate and there's not excuse for it," said City Island resident Richard Jannaccio, who went on to agree that the announcement of the firehouse's closure had probably led to the false alarm.
Sources close to the investigation tell NY1 there could have been as many as a dozen calls made that day, both shortly before and after Scoppetta's announcement of closures. The sources also say members of Ladder 53 learned about the cuts before the commissioner's announcement.
The ongoing investigation could result in more arrests.