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article imageAlberta volunteer firefighter facing 18 counts of arson

By Arthur Weinreb     May 2, 2016 in Crime
Mayerthorpe - The town of Mayerthorpe is reeling after a 19-year-old firefighter and son of a former mayor was charged with 18 counts of arson including one for the CN trestle bridge fire.
Lawson Michael Schalm was arrested on Friday by Mayerthorpe RCMP and charged with 18 counts of arson. Although the teen volunteer firefighter was still in training and not allowed to fight interior fires he could participate in battling flames on the exterior. it is alleged Schalm fought five of the 18 fires he is charged with setting and was an observer at another four.
As the Globe and Mail reports, fires, mostly small grass fires, began breaking out in Mayerthorpe in the middle of last month. Although most of the fires were minor, Mayor Kate Patrick said the number of fires put the community on edge. "Everyone was on alert. It was an anxious town," said Patrick.
On April 26, the CN trestle bridge caught fire and burned. Unlike the other fires, the wooden bridge went up in flames and gave off large amounts of black smoke. People including school students had to be evacuated or were told to prepare for evacuation and the loss of the bridge has economic implications for Mayerthorpe, especially in the oil and lumber industries. Firefighters from other areas were called in and a water bomber was used to fight the flames. It took firefighters over 12 hours to extinguish the blaze.
Schalm joined the Mayerthorpe Fire Department at 15 and was thinking about a career as a firefighter. Chief Randy Schroeder said of the arrest, "We didn't see this coming." The chief said Schalm was a "great firefighter" and had good prospects of making it his career. He was to graduate high school in two months and everyone in the department was shocked by the arrest.
Yesterday, Mayor Patrick and Chief Schroeder issued a joint press release[PDF] advising of the arrest. They said members of the fire department will undergo debriefing and counselling will be available. They also advised they are cooperating with the RCMP and the fire department will continue to serve the community.
The release ends by stating they will handle what happened with compassion and understanding and hope "Lawson Schalm receives the help he needs."
Schalm's father, Albert Schalm, is a former mayor of Mayerthorpe. The elder Schalm was mayor of the town in 2005 when four RCMP officers were killed in a single day. Albert Schalm is supportive of his adopted son and is quoted by CBC as saying the family refuses to be devastated by the events. He will not throw his son under the bus and will do what he can to get him back on track. The former mayor also said he was glad there were no serious injuries as a result of the fires.
Schalm remains in custody and the RCMP acknowledge there may be more charges. The 19-year-old will make his first appearance at Stony Plain Provincial Court on Wednesday.
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