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Firefighter Hostages Case: Gunman who allegedly held 5 firefighters hostage wanted utilities restored at house

A police officer leaves the scene after an explosion and gunshots were heard near where a man was holding four firefighters hostage on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Suwanee, Ga. AP Photo/John Bazemore

(CBS/AP) SUWANEE, Ga. - Five firefighters are safe after authorities said a gunman facing financial problems took them hostage in a Georgia neighborhood on Wednesday and demanded that utilities be restored at his house.

The firefighters were responding to a report of a medical emergency in a neighborhood north of Atlanta where they encountered an armed man who demanded that his cable and power be turned back on at the house, which was in foreclosure.

Authorities said the firefighters were held for hours, with one firefighter allowed to leave to move a fire truck. But with police fearing the remaining firefighters were in immediate danger, SWAT teams set off a stun blast and stormed the house, and the gunman was shot dead during an exchange of gunfire.

One SWAT team member was shot in the hand or arm but was OK afterward, and the firefighters suffered only minor injuries, authorities said.

Gwinnett County police on Wednesday night didn't immediately release the name of the dead man or discuss details of the operation. The firefighters and a wounded police officer were treated at a nearby hospital and were good condition. Some had already gone home.

"In talking to the firefighters and their families just now, they're relieved," Gwinnett County Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge said at a news conference late Wednesday outside the hospital. "They're simply relieved that the situation is over, that their family members are with them and that they're safe."

He went on to say "firefighters are resilient people and so they're brave and they're daring and they have a passion to help people" and that the five will be back on the job when they're able to.

Dozens of police and rescue vehicles surrounded the home Wednesday afternoon and a negotiator was keeping in touch with the gunman, police said. The situation remained tense until an enormous blast went off and rocked the neighborhood of mostly two-story homes and well-kept lawns.

Soon after the stun blast, officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect and a SWAT member was shot in the hand or arm, said Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Edwin Ritter. Ritter would not say how the gunman was fatally shot, saying it was being investigated.

"The explosion you heard was used to distract the suspect, to get into the house and take care of business," Ritter said in a news conference. He said the situation had gotten to the point where authorities believed the lives of the hostages were in "immediate danger."

The gunman demanded several utilities be restored, Ritter said. According to public records, the home is in foreclosure and has been bank-owned since mid-November.

"It's an unfortunate circumstance we did not want to end this way," Ritter said. "But with the decisions this guy was making, this was his demise."

Firefighters were able to use their radios to let the dispatch center know what was going on, the fire department's Rutledge said. Ritter said officials decided to "get control of the situation" and do it swiftly.

The incident took place about 35 miles northeast of Atlanta, in the Interstate 85 corridor, and Rutledge said firefighters did not believe there was any danger in responding to the initial call. One engine and one ambulance responded. Ritter said authorities didn't yet know if the suspect may have faked a heart attack or some other problem to bring the firefighters to his home.

"Our firefighters responded to a call they respond to hundreds of times, and that's a medical emergency," Rutledge said.

Asked what kind of weapon or weapons the suspect had, Ritter said he didn't immediately know. He said investigators were in the house where the suspect's body remained.

More on Crimesider
April 10, 2013 - Ga. Firefighters Hostage Update: Gunman killed; hostages OK
April 10, 2013 - Man holding 5 firefighters hostage in Gwinnett County, Ga., authorities say

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