March 21st, 2001. It’s the day we lost a hero to an arsonist.
It was just before 5 p.m. at the Southwest Supermarket at 35th Avenue and McDowell when Phoenix Police Sgt. Paul Penzone said the tragedy began to unfold.
“What seemed like something simple, turned into a tragic event,” Penzone said.
Deputy Fire Chief Mike Berggren describes the scene.
“It came in as a debris fire outside the structure,” Berggren said. “We sent an assignment out there. In a short amount of time the fire extended into the structure.”
“There was a lot of combustibles in the area where the fire started,” Berggren said. “It was a large building. It had a unique floor plan, the building consisted of about 25,000 square feet. They had a good general idea of where the fire was at, but because of the items that were on fire it did produce a lot of smoke.”
Veteran firefighter Brett Tarver, a husband and the father of three little children, became trapped inside. He never made it out.
“We lost a firefighter and lost a brother in there,” Berggren said. “But there was four other people that came very close, that were rescued and transported and hospitalized as a result of this fire.”
“The initial damages were estimated to be about $4 million, but the bigger loss that day was the life of firefighter Brett Tarver,” Penzone said.
“The tragedy of this, in my 34 years in the fire service, is that this is the first fatality to a firefighter that has been linked to an intentionally set fire,” Berggren said.
“We know a lot about this fire. We know where it started, we know how it started, our biggest hump is we need information on who’s responsible,” Berggren said.
“Investigators are hoping to identify the arsonist whose actions led to the death of veteran firefighter Brett Tarver,” Penzone said.
“I think it would definitely help his immediate family maybe to put this to rest,” Berggren said. “I know it would certainly help our family as firefighters to put it to rest.”
“It’s a tragedy,” Berggren said.