From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 6/8
Since we only keep most articles on line a couple days, the text follows:
Police scolded on ruse
Friday, June 8, 2001
By Jean Laquidara Hill
Telegram & Gazette Staff
The firefighter ruse that let Webster police get into a drug suspect's residence has sparked a move to make it illegal in Massachusetts for police to pose as firefighters.
The Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, a union representing 12,000 professional firefighters, will vote at its biennial convention June 25 in Hyannis on whether to sponsor legislation prohibiting law enforcement officials from impersonating firefighters in the performance of their duty.
The proposal was initiated because of the ruse that Webster police used two weeks ago, according to Robert McCarthy, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, which is affiliated with the International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO Council.
“I hope we can work with the law enforcement community. It can't be 'them against us,' but I have to protect my people. They were reaching out to me to help them,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Webster police rode a firetruck May 25 to a suspect's apartment, where they knew the door was bolted.
Police said they needed to get inside and get control of the situation, before the suspects realized they were police, because they feared one of the suspects might become violent and endanger a child and a pregnant woman inside. The Webster police also said they were worried the suspects would dispose of the cocaine when they realized police were at the door.
The suspects let police in because the officers told them they were firefighters responding to a report of smoke or an odor.
Once inside, police said they identified themselves, confiscated 33 grams of cocaine packaged to sell, and arrested two suspects. The May 25 raid also included two other apartments, where no ruse was used, and 12 other people were arrested.
When firefighters read the news report, they spread the word through an Internet forum on Firehouse.com. Firefighters from across the country, Canada and New Zealand who participate in the forum are still expressing outrage.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters also have asserted that police should never pose as firefighters because the practice jeopardizes firefighters' credibility and therefore endangers lives.
Webster Police Chief Richard E. Bergeron Jr. has defended the ruse, saying it was necessary to protect the child, and he asserted that everyone is safer when drug dealers are off the street. He also has stood by Webster Fire Chief Gordon Dean Wentworth's decision to permit the police to use the firetruck.
Chief Wentworth has declined to comment, except to say he does not want to read any more about it.
But some of the firefighters in his department have joined the ranks of firefighters who believe the ruse violates the public trust, and they expressed fear that drug dealers and other criminals will target firefighters.
While firefighters were protesting on the Firehouse.com forum, they also were ringing Mr. McCarthy's telephone in Watertown.
Those calls, including one from Ron Armstrong, of the Worcester Fire Department Executive Board, prompted the move toward legislation, according to Mr. McCarthy.
Mr. McCarthy said the Webster ruse is the first he has heard of in five or six years. Before that, he said, he knew of a few incidents and dealt with them by working out unwritten agreements with some district attorneys to ban the practice.
“I thought it was pretty much an accepted principle,” he said yesterday. “We (firefighters) go into people's homes all the time. We go in on medical emergencies, too. We don't want people shutting their doors on us, preventing us from coming in. We don't want to jeopardize their lives, the lives we're trying to protect. We don't want them thinking, 'Are these firefighters, are they police officers?' ”
He said, “We could have a fire in a crack house or something and we don't want them to think we're there to arrest them. We don't want to be going down the street and have someone take a potshot at us because they think we're police officers.”
Mr. McCarthy, a third-generation firefighter, has been a member of the Watertown Fire Department for 33 years.
Although police and firefighters both serve for the public's safety, their roles differ dramatically, he said, because firefighters are not in an adversarial role.
“It's a great reward, an inner reward, that you're helping your fellow mankind,” he said. “What happened (in Webster), it was an isolated incident. And I hope when the law enforcement officers think about the long-term consequences, they won't do it again.”
Friday, June 8, 2001
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06-08-2001, 10:55 AM #1Dalmatian90Firehouse.com Guest
Legislation considered to prohibited Police pretending to be Firefighters...
06-08-2001, 10:59 AM #2Dalmatian90Firehouse.com Guest
I know the IAFF and IAFC and now Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts have come out against such ruses.
I'd like to see the NVFC & other state fire fighter associations also come out with their opposition to such practices!
06-08-2001, 12:26 PM #3FireRebelFirehouse.com Guest
Could not agree more Dal90..
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