AFSCME Local 2703 Member Saves Atwater City Hall From Fire, Chases Down Arson Suspect

A seemingly unlikely hero emerged Tuesday morning in Atwater when he quickly extinguished a fire burning at City Hall, then chased the arson suspect for half a mile and detained him for police.

Chris Carrera, 54, an AFSCME Local 2703member, has been a part-time janitor for the city of Atwater for nine years, but Tuesday he also was a firefighter and police officer.

Atwater police said that, just before 10:30 a.m., a man approached City Hall on Bellevue Road in Atwater, doused the front of the building with gasoline and set it ablaze.

Carrera was in the hallway when he spotted the flames. He used a portable extinguisher to put the fire out.

“I saw him walking away, and I yelled out to see if maybe he’d seen who started it or something, but then he took off running and I thought, ‘Well, that looks pretty guilty,’ ” Carrera recalled. “I chased after him a couple blocks, down the street to Osborn Park. We both got tired and he gave up.”

The man, later identified by police as Guadalupe Hernandez-Ramirez, 45, told police “the cartel” made him set the fire, but refused to answer any other questions without a lawyer, City Manager Frank Pietro said, adding that Hernandez-Ramirez will receive a mental health evaluation.

Read more at the Merced Sun-Star.