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Firefighter accused of false call on gas leak

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An Urbana firefighter is accused of calling from a bachelor party and falsely reporting a gas leak in Urbana. Court records indicate Matthew R. Ennis, 25, of Urbana faces a Class A misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

The charge accuses him of filing a false report with the Metropolitan Computer-Aided Dispatch service, commonly known as METCAD.

Ennis is due for his first court appearance Aug. 17. He could not be reached for comment.

Trent Short, president of Urbana Firefighters Local 1147, said the union and city are completing an internal personnel investigation and appeal process in Ennis’ case.

Short declined comment on Ennis’ job status, but said the union believes something could be worked out that “both the city and the people involved can live with.”

“This is a time to be constructive, not destructive,” Short said. “This is an isolated incident.”

Ennis started as an Urbana firefighter on Sept. 6, 2002, according to the Urbana personnel office.

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Ennis is accused of calling METCAD’s nonemergency phone line to report a gas leak as a practical joke.

Had he called 911, he could have possibly been charged with a felony, according to Rietz.

METCAD provides 911 emergency dispatch services for Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois police and fire, as well as dispatching for the Champaign County sheriff’s office and most rural county fire departments.

According to court records, Ennis was issued a summons to appear in court on the disorderly conduct charge, which was filed June 24. Urbana attorney Robert Auler’s office notified the court July 14 that he would represent Ennis.

Auler said the city is trying to fire Ennis.

“He’s a great firefighter,” Auler said. “A great firefighter plus bachelor party equals poor judgment. That’s not likely to be repeated. He deserves a second chance because he’s a good person.”

According to an Urbana police report, Ennis was intoxicated and called METCAD about 8:35 p.m. May 7 to report a natural gas leak in the 1300 block of North Cunningham Avenue. The Urbana Fire Department responded and found the report to be false, according to the police report.

Urbana Fire Chief Rex Mundt said he has nearly completed investigating the incident as a personnel matter. He declined further comment about what happened or about Ennis’ job status.

While not commenting about the specific case, METCAD Director Rick Kallmayer said false reporting is a serious matter.

“There is always the risk of potential traffic accidents because those pieces of equipment can exercise extraordinary right of way in traffic,” he said.

Kallmayer said emergency equipment and personnel being tied up on a false call is dangerous.

“Fire responses are particularly time-sensitive,” Kallmayer said. “Fires can spread from something small to something large in a short amount of time. If we have a piece of apparatus out of position for no good reason, you could have serious property damage, even loss of life.”

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