Firefighter Impersonators and Imposters

Sources: EMR-ISAC, Statter 9-11

Police impersonation is not uncommon; impersonation of firefighters or fire marshals is less common but should be just as much of a security concern to departments and communities. One made headlines during a memorial for one of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. This incident was insensitive and unfortunate, but most impersonations deal mainly with theft or con games.

Fire marshal imposters in New York, Texas, and Maryland all used their false roles for scams or theft, or to possibly “case” a business in preparation for a theft. Businesses unfamiliar with the local fire inspection protocol or personnel could easily be fooled by the right clothes, badge, and language, another reason to maintain good community relations.

Last year, a wildland firefighter imposter in Colorado was arrested for theft of radios and batteries from supplies of the real firefighters. A real concern in a circumstance like this is whether or not the imposter had access to the houses of evacuees as well. Checkpoints and proper credentialing is important in events with evacuations and fast-paced environments.

The other serious concern in some of these cases is where the individuals got the departmental badges, uniforms, gear, or other items that could convince people that they are indeed employed with a fire department. Any betrayal of public trust makes the jobs of public safety and emergency responders that much more difficult. Departments should take steps to ensure department badges and uniforms are accounted for.