TOWN OF FARMINGTON — A man who served as a volunteer firefighter in Helenville pleaded no contest Tuesday, Feb. 18 to one of two counts of arson of a building without owner’s consent filed against him in January 2019. This, after prosecutors said the man who “wanted to play with fire” set two barns ablaze in fall 2018, and then called 911 to report them.
After entering the plea, Johnathan Paul, 25, of Oconomowoc was sentenced to serve five years’ probation, plus six months in the Jefferson County Jail, with work release privileges. He was also ordered to pay more than $79,000 in restitution. The court ruled he cannot serve as a full-time professional or volunteer firefighter.
Investigators first became suspicious in November 2018, following a metal pole shed fire off Helenville Road in the Town of Farmington. James Baneck, who owns the property, said he lost thousands of dollars worth of items.
“It’s been nerve-wracking, not knowing what happened or what’s going on,” said Baneck in January 2019. “I lost quite a bit of equipment, some rare automotive parts, an old antique truck, and a building.”
Investigators believed it was arson because “the building was engulfed from end to end.”
Digging deeper, investigators found Paul was the one who called 911, and he was the same person who called in another suspicious fire the previous month.
In October 2018, a barn off Sunshine Road was set on fire. When investigators confronted Paul, they said he admitted to the crimes, telling deputies he “wanted to play with fire,” and thought it “was exhilarating.”
After charges were filed, the Helenville fire chief wouldn’t confirm whether Paul was still part of the fire department.