On March 14, 2001, a battalion chief called to report a fire behind the Southwest Supermarket at 35th Ave & McDowell Rd in Phoenix. That fire began in a trash heap behind the store and quickly raged out of control inside. Firefighter Bret Tarver, an eight-year veteran firefighter with a wife and three daughters, was with his crew on Engine 14, C shift when the call came out. As the order was made to go from “offensive” to “defensive”, the crew of E14 became entangled in debris and needed to be rescued. Bret could not be reached at first but the RIC crew went back, refusing to leave their brother firefighter. His body was pulled from the fire just minutes before the roof collapsed.
Today, it was announced that the arsonist who set the fire, Chris Benitez, has been arrested. Benitez apparently joined the Army to avoid charges. In 2007, an anonymous tip led investigators to Benitez and a two-year investigation ensued. I have all the respect in the world for those who serve our country; however, those who use the uniform of the US Army to hide from the crimes they’ve committed immediately earn my deepest disdain. Benitez is currently being charged with arson of an occupied structure and murder. I hope against hope that he rots in prison for the remainder of his existence.
The ability to catch an arsonist is one that investigators work long and hard to hone. In this case, they approached it like Novocaine: just give it time and it’ll always work. It worked well here. I can only hope Bret’s wife and daughters will see justice done. I hope that somewhere deep down Benitez feels some remorse for starting a fire that claimed the life of a man who was devoted to his familiy and his community. To my friends…I don’t ever want to go to any of your funerals. Stay safe, brothers.