Firefighters to Fight Terrorism While Doing their Day Jobs

In yet another front in the war on the unexpected, more amateurs are joining the fight against terrorism:

Unlike police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel don’t need warrants to access hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings each year, putting them in a position to spot behavior that could indicate terrorist activity or planning.


When going to private residences, for example, they are told to be alert for a person who is hostile, uncooperative or expressing hate or discontent with the United States; unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress.

Because it’s such a good idea for people to start fearing firefighters….

Posted on November 27, 2007 at 1:22 PM81 Comments


Michael Ash November 27, 2007 1:41 PM

Let’s see… In my house, a firefighter would find still and video cameras, maps, photos, training manuals, flight manuals, and somewhat less furniture than is normal. If my house is burning down then I am likely to be hostile and uncooperative, and while ultimately I like my country a lot I have a great deal of hate and discontent with the United States.

Better hope my house doesn’t burn down then. Even more than usual, that is.

dragonfrog November 27, 2007 1:44 PM

I see one actual useful thing in there – training firefighters to recognize flammable or explosive chemicals (cause they don’t have that already? Maybe that’s cause for worry too).

Other than that – OK fine, if you have a kitchen fire, you’d better hope you aren’t a trainspotter, or a videographer, or a bird-watcher, or going to flight school, or furnishing your place in a spartan fashion, or active in non-mainstream politics.

Other than that, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, right?

Nick Lancaster November 27, 2007 1:52 PM

My bookshelf includes titles on Islam; a few ‘anti-Bush’ titles (i.e. Glenn Greenwald’s ‘How Would A Patriot Act?’ and Richard Clarke’s ‘Against All Enemies’); books on police procedure, forensic investigation, body trauma, poisons (I used to work on an online mystery game); numerous books on cryptography; and (somewhere in a box in the basement) a copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook.

Flagging me for that is pretty much ‘thought crime.’

shoobe01 November 27, 2007 1:55 PM

I have:
unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place (to most people)
weapons boxes
surveillance equipment
still and video cameras
night-vision goggles
maps, photos, blueprints;
police (and military) manuals, training manuals, flight manuals

But I do have furniture.

Luckily I have nothing to hide, so there is nothing to fear.

Nick Lancaster November 27, 2007 2:05 PM

Oh, yeah. I forgot the chemicals in the basement (mostly plastics) … clearly, I must be making the infamous ‘plastic gun’ like John Malkovich’s character in “In the Line of Fire.”

Eric November 27, 2007 2:20 PM

Maybe they can go the next logical step and the firemen can start burning down the houses full of improper books and maps and things.

Ben November 27, 2007 2:21 PM

Ya know, it’s really scary when “expressing… discontent with the United States” is considered a threat to national security. Does this make anybody who’s not a toe-the-line Republican a potential terrorist? There seems to be an increasing government bend toward homogenizing thought that is downright disturbing. By this definition, Bruce here is a potential terrorist because he’s dared question DHS and TSA practices (among other things). What’s next? Secret police kidnapping dissidents? Sheesh…

Ed T. November 27, 2007 2:24 PM

Yep, it sure would be smart for firefighters to be on the lookout for ammunition while inside of a burning building. Explosives and flammables, as well.


Ed T. November 27, 2007 2:29 PM

“…If an ambulance team shows up at a house and sees detailed maps of the District’s public transit system on the wall, that’s something the EMS provider would pass along…”

Of course, if the person just happens to be one of those who is dependent on the public transit system to get around… oopsie.


derf November 27, 2007 2:45 PM

If your home is burning, firefighters really shouldn’t be taking time to sit down for a nice cup of tea and a chat about your political views. They also probably shouldn’t take their focus off of the 6 alarm fire in front of their hose to peruse your magazine rack.

Medical personnel shouldn’t be browsing the contents of your gun racks or coffee tables in between jolts of the defibrillator, either.

And let’s be honest – no one is happy with Congress, the Supreme Court, or the President at the moment.

Nathan November 27, 2007 2:49 PM

“unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress”

Sounds just like my apartment 🙂

Just A Bill November 27, 2007 2:50 PM

“Does this make anybody who’s not a toe-the-line Republican a potential terrorist?”

@Ben: Not if the Democrats win – then the toe-the-line Republicans will go up against the wall. Libertarians are screwed either way, but they’re used to that….

Jeff November 27, 2007 3:04 PM

As a paid on-call (volunteer to most people) firefighter, I have little time to actively look for these things, except that which is necessary for our job of responding to the incident for which we were called. We are always watching for ‘evidence’ as it applies to incident investigations. If something looks suspicious it gets reported to command and/or the fire marschal. Law enforcement is already there, before we are, and will be there after we leave.

I think that what this article is really saying is that fire INSPECTORS, when they go out to perform their scheduled inspections and pre-plans of businesses (to aid in response when necessary) should be aware of potential hazards. This is part of their job anyway, this is nothing new. It is very unlikely (does not happen in MSP metro area) that residential housing gets an inspection/pre-plan except for appartment buildings, and then it is usually the common areas and possibly a sampling of individual units as a representation of the whole.

As a new terrorism fighting tool I would not take this article too seriously. Most fire department personnel are too busy to actively look for all of this other ‘suspisious material’ beyond noticing what seems to be really out of place during the course of regular duties.

atroon November 27, 2007 3:04 PM

I’m curious what the National EMT Registry has to say about this with regard to ethical concerns; they tend to view themselves as medical professionals first and ‘community officials’ (for lack of a better term) second. For example, drug paraphernalia found in someone’s pocket while you are giving medical treatment is not cause for a call to the police, because the EMT has a duty of patient confidentiality similar to any other medical professional. So then who can you trust with your health?

Brandioch Conner November 27, 2007 3:20 PM

Good idea … Bad idea

Think of SPECIFIC instances that would conform to what those IDIOTS just said.

“Hi! We’re your new neighbors from down the hall. My, you certainly have a lot of fertilizer bags in your apartment. Are you a gardener?”

“Yes. I am a … gardener. I hope all you Americans DIE!”

“Oh, that’s nice. We’ll see you around. Bye!”

Now the GOOD IDEA is the one about providing a means for emergency personnel to contact anti-terrorism units QUICKLY. If firefighters go into a house and find a basement full of fertilizer bags, that’s something that should be reported.

Or if EMT’s treat someone who lost a hand because his pipe bomb went off early.

But other than that … this plan is stupid!

Petréa Mitchell November 27, 2007 3:21 PM

“If, for example, Washington is hosting an International Monetary Fund meeting where there will be a large group of protesters and a truckload of gasoline has been stolen in Baltimore, firefighters need to know about intelligence from overseas that terrorists are trying to make explosive devices out of gasoline, Schultz said.”

So that they can… do what, exactly? Be on the lookout for a truckload of gasoline in case they might find it stashed in the living room of the next person they save from a heart attack?

Nomen Publicus November 27, 2007 3:23 PM


When will these idiots ever realise that information is NOT the enemy. Anybody with a chemistry degree could, in theory, make some really neat fireworks. But most people would blow themselves up in the process because practical experience is more important that theoretical knowledge.

Tautalogical Joe November 27, 2007 3:28 PM

Wow. Let’s see. I have lots of textbooks on surveillance, I have night vision gear, lots of telescopes and CCD imaging equipment, lots of computers, electronic components, bottles of etchant for making circuit boards, and test equipment. Oh, I’m a ham radio operator, and… let’s see. I’m left wing, read a lot of political books, philosophy books, etc. I subscribe to the Nation, and since I’m in Information Security, many technical and “hacker” magazines. Combine that with tattoos (really geeky ones, but that’s another thread of misinterpretation altogether) and the funny hair…

But then again, it’s my fault for being in to so many things a reasonable, untrained person would assume are “terrorist related”.

This is getting ridiculous.

Like you said before and will probably say again, Mr. Schnieir.


pointfree November 27, 2007 3:34 PM

^^^ but do any of you have a turban and a long beard and wear clothes approximating bed sheets? no? you’ll be fine, racial profiling will sort it out 😉

Bach November 27, 2007 4:01 PM

“unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress.”

Sounds like an accurate description of my apartment… before I got married, that is. 🙂

wkwillis November 27, 2007 4:06 PM

Ammonium nitrate is one of the chemicals used for arson. Makes the fires burn a lot hotter, faster, witt less need for ventilation (necessary if you want your fire to escape notice till it’s too late to put out), and more or less traceless, because ammonia and nitrates are formed from burning wood.
Firemen already look for ammonium nitrate sacks inside or around a burning house. They also look for empty gasoline cans, burnt matches, etc, at the point where the fire started.
They know a lot more about this stuff than you or I do because it’s one of the things they tell stories about while they hang around waiting for a fire.

Roy November 27, 2007 4:23 PM

Imagine the false positives.

An orange-yellow box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda isn’t ‘suspicious’, but a 5-pound bag of sodium bicarbonate bought at a bulk store could be seen as ‘suspicious white powder’, and if reported surreptitiously, the next thing you know SWAT has smashed in the doors, trashed the place, terrorized everyone and the neighbors, and maybe killed someone.

Are the feds perhaps trying to recruit more helpers into terrorizing the citizenry?

Lynda November 27, 2007 4:31 PM

This reminds me of when the police came to my apartment when it was burglarized.

As it happens, I had a scary-looking lockblade knife on my mantel, which I used as a letter opener. (I had received it as a bridesmaid gift, all I can say is, the bride in question is a woman with a very practical turn of mind.)

Anyway, when the police came, one of them spent a lot of time looking at the knife and asked me why I had it. Maybe he just liked knives, but it was kind of a strange conversation.

Incidentally, the place was sparsely furnished and had a lot of religious books on display. Good thing it was pre-9/11.

Doug Stewart November 27, 2007 4:44 PM

The US national anthem refers to the “land of the brave and home of the free”. However, they are losing both. Fear has become pervasive, and this are allowed an extraordinary erosion of freedom. It is now in the early stages of becoming a police state. People can be detained (and tortured) without appeal or rights. The use of firemen and medical personnel as informants is a step toward widespread public informants, and the inability to trust even family and neighbours, a key element of all police states.

It is easier to lose freedom than to regain it. I hope that America rediscovers its courage before it goes much further down this road.

sunbomb November 27, 2007 4:59 PM

You know what’s scary? As an international student, when I first arrived in the US, I did not have enough money (or motivation) to actually furnish my apartment. Couple that with the fact that sometimes, there were 4 or 5 of us international students living in one apartment (reducing costs) and having only sleeping bags, suitcases of clothes and the all-important computer (with internet connection) as worldly possessions. The only other items would be engineering and other science textbooks. I am wondering what the firefighters would have thought about that. Again pre-9/11, but I assume current international students are in similar situations.

Jeff Craig November 27, 2007 5:19 PM

I know I have far too many of the items listed above to feel rightly comfortable about the firemen trying to do more than simply stop the fire, and discover it’s cause. Hell, if anything more people should probably own more of the stuff on that list.

Tangerine Blue November 27, 2007 5:31 PM

Unlike police, firefighters and
emergency medical personnel don’t
need warrants

Finally, a workaround to that pesky Fourth Amendment.

dk November 27, 2007 5:34 PM

So, it is okay to train truck drivers (from Bruce’s previous posts) but not firefighters? Comment, Bruce?

Anonymous November 27, 2007 5:35 PM

@Roy –

sodium bicarbonate bought at a bulk
store could be seen as ‘suspicious
white powder’

Who knows what they would think if they found a barrel of dihydrogen monoxide.

Kees November 27, 2007 5:44 PM

@Anonymous “Who knows what they would think if they found a barrel of dihydrogen monoxide.”

Nothing much, they usually bring their own…

Tangerine Blue November 27, 2007 5:52 PM

@dk –

I’ll bite. There’s nothing wrong with training anybody to do anything lawful.

If you want truck drivers or firefighters to perform search and surveillance for law enforcement, their training better include the full police academy, and culminate with their being officially deputized.

And before they search or surveil, they need a warrant.

Anonymous November 27, 2007 6:02 PM

“As a new terrorism fighting tool I would not take this article too seriously. Most fire department personnel are too busy to actively look for all of this other ‘suspisious material’ beyond noticing what seems to be really out of place during the course of regular duties.”

Tiy are missing the point — its not weher or not the firefighters have the time to do this, it is that they are being asked to do it. It doesn’t matte if the process is ineffective, it is the matter that fear and control of the public mindset are so rampant in the US that such a request would actually be made — and readily accepted as normal by the general public.

The US is rapidly descending to — and surpassing — the totallitarian states and governments they do hated during the Cold War. Don’t be surprised to see the ghost of Joe MacCarthy hovering around…

Newspeak Newbie November 27, 2007 6:08 PM

Advocates of the fire service’s
intelligence role

See how she just slipped that in there? Since when does the “fire service” have an “intelligence role”?

[Advocates] say privacy will not be

Firefighters snooping around our houses doesn’t violate our privacy? What does?

dk November 27, 2007 6:36 PM

@Tangerine Blue

Bruce, have you changed your name? And I don’t want you to bite, just explain.

Previously, Bruce has said that training truckers to look for things suspicious was a good idea. He was speaking of a specific government program when he wrote about that here. In this case, which I find analogous to the trucker idea, he is against it. I want to understand how he differentiates these two cases.

Tangerine Blue November 27, 2007 6:41 PM


Bruce has said that training truckers to
look for things suspicious was a good

Do you have a URL or book citation so I can read that in context?

Straight Shooter November 27, 2007 7:01 PM


In the USA, a foreigner in the country without permission is often called an “illegal alien.”

In many other countries, an uninvited foreigner on their soil is called an “American.”

Tangerine Blue November 27, 2007 7:11 PM


Done right, this could be an example
of terrorism being used as the
justification for something that is
smart and effective.

I can’t find a place in that blog entry where Bruce says he likes the idea of truckers being on terrorist surveillance duty.

The point of that post is that despite there being a “hokey” surveillance aspect, “‘stranded vehicles or accidents, unsafe road conditions, and other safety related situations’ are likely to be the bread and butter of this kind of program.”

Andrew November 27, 2007 7:45 PM

Making firefighters and EMS personnel into backup investigators has got to be one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard of. They already report the obvious, as pointed out above; let’s not advertise this to the general public.

Making them into government agents acting at police discretion means that anything they see and hear loses admissibility in a court of law as “fruit of the poisoned tree.” Smooth.

I should add that firefighters responding to a reported fire or medical emergency can and WILL force entry if necessary.

I know of a case where a heart attack victim was put on a rolling chair by his manager and pushed out into the lobby, specifically so that the EMS and firefighters could not obtain access to the (secure top secret hush hush red line on the tile) lab in which he worked.

Let’s just say that the heart attack victim was not the only employee to roll as a result.

“unusual chemicals or other materials that seem out of place; ammunition, firearms or weapons boxes; surveillance equipment; still and video cameras; night-vision goggles; maps, photos, blueprints; police manuals, training manuals, flight manuals; and little or no furniture other than a bed or mattress”

Is this my apartment or my office?

jack c lipton November 27, 2007 7:54 PM

“Discontent with the United States”… perhaps it would be best phrased thusly:

“Discontent with the United States’ current leadership”.

Look, the problem here is that the United States has a First Amendment to its Constitution to make dissent safe since dissent, itself, is a form of check and balance. That the Shrubbery have worked to ensure that all signs of dissent are kept out of their sight, well, that’s just ‘cuz they like to lie to themselves.

The problem, of course, is that, with the flick of a pen, our President can strip any of us of the benefits of the US Constitution by declaring any one of us as an “enemy combatant”… and dissent becomes dangerous.

What I don’t like is the kind of conformity these microcephalic morons think is good, but, then, the Shrubbery has been very friendly with large corporations and has worked, albeit with limited success, to cut labor costs for the people who actually do the work of serving customers. It sometimes seems to me that there’s effort to instill some kind of caste system in the USA.

All right, so my work as a network security analyst, here and there, has my paranoia go up to at least eleven…

Robert Beverly November 27, 2007 10:25 PM

*Lab setup (for making Castile soap, but you never know when someone will be soaped to death)
*More chemicals… can’t forget the garden sulfur, surely a danger to caterpillars, garden Ph, and western civilization.
*Esoteric library including books on the occult, religion, philosophy, books in at least 5 languages, 100s on martial arts, tactics, etc.
*Cameras… clearly there could be no good reason to have several cameras.

Check, check, check, check, check…
I guess I’ll turn myself in before I’m discovered by a well-meaning paramedic.

David November 27, 2007 10:30 PM

This is an egregious violation of the public trust which is absolutely critical in order for EMS to do their jobs. Many people already are hostile to the police; fire and EMS personnel most certainly do NOT want to operate in the atmosphere of hostility that this active surveillance role will deservedly foster. Not to mention that people will die because they or others around them are afraid of what EMS will see or think.

Truly boneheaded.

Neighborcat November 27, 2007 11:35 PM

Firefighters on the front line against terrorists? Cool! Those guys and gals are pretty handy! Maybe they could improve a few levys around New Orleans and inspect some interstate highway bridges while they are at it.

Anonymous November 28, 2007 12:19 AM

Does this mean if I live in an area without 911 service and my shit catches on fire, I can call the local DHS office and they’ll notify the nearest fire crew? After all, now they have this fancy new “mechanism” for communicating important information to firefighters. What’s that you say? This mechanism only goes one way? Well that’s dumb.

At least information will be flowing in the direction that abates the greater risk. No? Wrong again?

How many people have died in building fires in the US since 9/11? And terrorist attacks? OK, that’s what I thought.

Idiots. And we -as in myself and many others reading this- give the DHS our money to think these things up. That’s just as dumb.

utnapistim November 28, 2007 2:47 AM

So … you’re all terrorists in the US? (or are you terrorists only in case of fires in your homes?)

Seriously though, is anyone reminded of Fahrenheit 451?

josephdietrich November 28, 2007 3:24 AM

So, we don’t allow police to access a home without a warrant, but we allow other government agents to do so, who are then encouraged to go to the police and report their findings. While this effectively circumvents the ban on police going into a home without a warrant, it seems like an inefficient amount of red tape in order to conduct an illegal search.

Here’s an idea: why not just get rid of the ban and make it legal for police to search any home they want to? Or is that too blatant?

IB November 28, 2007 4:18 AM

‘Making them into government agents acting at police discretion means that anything they see and hear loses admissibility in a court of law as “fruit of the poisoned tree.” Smooth.’

Don’t think the Potential Terrorist will ever get near a court of law. There are more efficient means to deal with that kind of people nowadays.

operation TIPS November 28, 2007 4:21 AM

I’m surprised nobody mentioned operation TIPS already.
US spy programs are zombies, they’ll come back again, no matter how many times you strike them down.

RC November 28, 2007 5:49 AM

I particularly like the way that one thing is equated to another in the list. Being uncooperative is put in the same category as hating the entire nation. This is similar to zero tolerance policies in schools where drawing a picture of a gun is equated to having a real gun.

uncooperative versus hating the U.S.
things out of place versus unusual chemicals
still camera versus night vision goggles
boxes that might be for weapons versus firearms and ammo
photos and maps versus blueprints

It’s also amusing that having little or no furniture is on the list, since if a home is on fire, the residents may soon have little or no furniture.

Anonymous November 28, 2007 7:03 AM

@Straight Shooter: You shoot straight pretty good, now you need to work on aim.

An american on someone else’s soil by overwhelming likelihood either had an open invitation (no entry visa requirement) or permission (a visa) and is therefore NOT undocumented.

Other than those, americans on foreign soil are illegal aliens just like the ones here and should be deported – along with more “local” illegals such as eastern europeans, lebanese, vietnamese, etc; which I bet outnumber undocumented americans in said country by way more than 100:1.

Oh, and in reference to the actual topic; divorced guys need to be wary of the “furniture” aspect too.

Frank B. November 28, 2007 9:05 AM


I think Bruce endorses training truckers because they aren’t being trained to search your home. (Duh!) Also, society has no real advantage in maintaining trust in their impartiality like we do with firefighters and EMTs.

UNTER November 28, 2007 9:10 AM

The point being underplayed is not that the most firefighters will play along – as Jeff points out, they’re usually a bit busy when they’re active.

It’s that we’re building another standard pipeline for folks who are upset with neighbors, relatives, acquaintances and such to “drop a tip” against them. This is how totalitarian states are built – every official position becomes an opportunity to harass your enemies, and the process is formalized.

Where before to harass someone, you actually had to seek out intelligence services, know they come to you – the filter is coming down. Which of course has a chilling effect when you know that if you piss of your neighbor who’s a fireman, he just may claim to “have seen something” at your house. And if you actually are a dissident, you have that much more reason to hide your opinions and your entire life from your acquaintances.

The bar gets lower, the bureaucratic complexity goes down and we slump towards a Soviet style of government. And like the frog that is slowly boiled, no one notices – if you comment on the changes, you’re called hysterical.

another anonymous November 28, 2007 9:52 AM

@ anonymous, “An american on someone else’s soil by overwhelming likelihood either had an open invitation (no entry visa requirement) or permission (a visa) and is therefore NOT undocumented.”

or even more likely, is wearing a uniform and carrying weapons, in the company of large numbers of similarly equipped comrades. Some will be drawing military paychecks, some will be on the Blackwater payroll, but to the locals they’ll all be American ambassadors.

another anonymous November 28, 2007 10:05 AM

…to finish my thought, those “ambassadors” will be exporting the internal value system expressed in our programs to have emergency services first responders become government snoops. Certainly that will induce the local inhabitants to welcome them with open arms, just as the ruling junta, er, popular leadership expected when they were invited to step in as peacekeepers.

bob November 28, 2007 11:31 AM

@another anonymous: “or even more likely, is wearing a uniform and …”

Your statement is ludicrous – the US currently has approximately 2.3 Million personnel as sworn members of the armed forces [source: defenselink]; this includes active duty as well as various reserve components. Even if we count all of those as serving overseas (they aren’t), this compares to approximately 30.1 Million (about THIRTEEN times as many) american residents who traveled abroad in 2006 [source: office of travel and tourism industries], meaning it is way way way more likely that an american overseas is a tourist, rather than a soldier.

Now as to soldiers (AND tourists) being defacto ambassadors, unfortunately you are correct there and I wish more of them (both) would act that way; but dont let your desire to make a point undermine your position by making ridiculous statements. Unless you are in the “George Bush ordered the crashing of airliners into the WTC in order to get an excuse to invade Iraq because they insulted his father” tin hat crowd in which case your position is ridiculous no matter what you do.

UNTER November 28, 2007 1:41 PM

Operation Northwoods:

If members of the JFK administration seriously considered committing terrorism against US targets in order to blame Castro, who knows what happens in this world? I don’t know if the tin-hats are right, but their theories are not so impossible as to be dismissed out of hand, once you know that those kinds of things have been done (by other governments), and you know we have seriously considered doing them, within historical memory.

BZ November 28, 2007 2:06 PM

Hmm, next we could recruit the geek squad to do some spying when they get hired to work on grandma’s computer. The furnace repair man can check for hazardous chemicals in the basement. The cable and phone guys should install capturing devices. Oh and Jehovah’s Witnesses should report any house of people that refuse to answer their door, because if they don’t answer their door, they’re up to no good! TERRORISTS!!

Kathryn November 28, 2007 3:05 PM

I’m screwed. Chemical Engineering and Philosophy degree with the books and equipment to match, some nice knives in utilitarian placement. (The bowie knife in the silverware drawer is my sister’s favorite. It doesn’t fit in my knife rack, and honestly, its a great all purpose knife.)

Luckily, my cultural leanings are Far East, not Middle East, and we all know that China isn’t dangerous to the US at all. Also in my favor, blonde females pass racial profiling.

Emergency responders’ “intelligence role” indeed. I would hope that they can be expected to stay out of my literature, politics, and hobbies as well as my underwear drawer.

Alan November 28, 2007 3:18 PM

I think that one thing people forget is: when there is a fire, it’s immediately considered a crime scene (until arson is ruled out), and, therefore, the police do not need a warrant to go (in) there.

I seem to recall there have been situations where people (most likely the police themselves) have reported a fire at a location (even when there wasn’t one) so that the firefighters could break down the door and, thus, the police would follow them in to “investigate” if it was arson.

Roy November 28, 2007 5:46 PM

Why not recruit valet parking guys to snoop through cars? Or the guys at the car wash? Anything turns up missing, the cops will likely give them a pass because they’re acting under the authority of Homeland Sekurity, and anybody who dares to complain would automatically be targeted for extra scrutiny, and perhaps ‘aggressive questioning’.

gex November 28, 2007 10:05 PM

“When will these idiots ever realise that information is NOT the enemy.”

It is to them. A well-informed public would not let them have their way with the public coffers, implement asinine policies, and keep starting wars without finishing the old ones first.

bob November 29, 2007 8:01 AM

@jack c lipton: Its not the current administration; its all administrations. Clinton did it too. The only president in my lifetime who decreased US Gov microintrusion (ie made the US more free) was Reagan.

The only reason GWB has done so much is because none of the previous presidents (other than FDR or LBJ) have had a good enough excuse.

jack c lipton November 29, 2007 11:51 AM


Actually, there has been a progression. Nixon’s counsel went to prison, IIRC, for have just a couple of FBI-created dossiers. Clinton’s administration, at one point, had hundreds. I have no idea how many are floating around the current White House.

Sadly, Clinton did not help matters by making the Presidency less subject to the law of the land… and this President has capitalized on that.

My memory isn’t as trustworthy as I would hope it to be (consider that I remember looking a lot younger just 30 years ago) but I seem to recall the Clipper Chip fiasco was during the Clinton regime rather than either Bush or Reagan admin… but I also don’t recall Reagan doing as much for the world as was boasted once he died.

The problem is that a lot of the legislation the “police state” was trying to get passed for years languished unloved and uncared-for until 9/11… which is why it took almost no time at all to assemble that nightmare known as the PATRIOT act.

All these powers are fine… but who watches the watchers? (My memory of the latin phrase for this has corroded almost completely, something-something-custodes.)

So… with the bypasses around the FISA… who is left to guard the hen-house?

bob November 29, 2007 3:04 PM

@jack: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (although I had to lookup ipsos, for some reason I was thinking it had a ‘t’ in it).

Well, I was born during the Eisenhower administration, so I will start getting old here in a couple decades, too; but I remember Reagan fired the ATC guys who violated their contracts, deregulated airlines, broke up AT&T and eliminated “equal time” on the airwaves. However we also know he 1) cut taxes, 2) boosted military spending [including soldiers’ salaries, not like the current team that is firing soldiers in order to buy toys while hyperutilizing the troops who remain] and 3) decreased the budget defecit; ergo, he must have cut something…?

Also isnt firearms and ammunition really only one subject? Or are we saying one or the other is OK, but having firearms AND ammunition makes them terrorists? (whereas having only one without the other makes them idiots or at least acceptably incompetent terrorists?)

Peter E Retep November 29, 2007 6:12 PM

Most militant and disciplined organizations need an out-of-uniform code to enforce discipline on its member-subordinates. Evidently, He-Who-Declared “Humor is inappropriate” for security tensions of being randomly, intimately searched, and has officially pronounced airports and airport parking areas as “no joke zones”, has also decided America needs an in-uniform rule to bring these rude, rascally Americans to heel like proper dogs. Who is excluded from the above list?

Tuf November 30, 2007 6:03 AM

Uhoh. Where I work, chemicals are often delivered in sets of 6 or 12 bottles in a box. Once the boxes are unpacked, they are used by employees to transport stuff (e.g. when moving to new home). Unfortunately, the boxes then still carry the labels of the chemicals they once contained, sometimes even the warning labels (“toxic”, “corrosive”, “inflammable”…).
Seems I have to take more care before a neighbour starts to call the police…

Kranz December 1, 2007 11:57 PM

“Because it’s such a good idea for people to start fearing firefighters….”

What sort of people would these be?
On the 10th of September 2001, if firefighters entered your home and found chemicals and beakers you’d be stupid if you didn’t assume you’d be a suspect for a drug lab.

Likewise for having assault weapons. Who the hell wouldn’t assume that when a government employee spots these in your home you aren’t going to be reported to someone?

Where exactly is this increased fear level supposed to be coming from? People who don’t have anything suspicious but will be too afraid to let the fire dept inside in the event of a fire?

Wouldn’t they have been just as scared already, since firefighters routinely report plants growing indoors to the police?
Aren’t indoor plants a lot more common that boxes of chemicals, weapons and night vision goggles?

These people you believe won’t let the fire dept in, in the event of a fire, because they are afraid they will find something that doesn’t exist, don’t exist themselves. They died a long time ago. It’s called natural selection.

Woody December 3, 2007 1:09 PM

I was a volunteer FF for 5 years (and still would be if I could commit the time), and saw a lot of interesting stuff. We point out the obvious things we find to our officers, and they relay up as needed. Guns/ammo are certainly called out when found (ammo in a fire isn’t much fun to be around). I once found a rifle in a closet during overhaul after a propane explosion in a house. Kinda tense until will determined the magazine and chamber were empty, and then still nervous in that closet in case there were any boxes of ammo (none were found, nor exploded shells from when the house caught fire).

On medical calls we glance around, if we find (illicit) drug paraphernalia, we’ll report that to the paramedics when they arrive (it can complicate their treatment).

We did not inform the police about drugs/alcohol. HIPPA kept us worried about the privacy implications there. The information can flow through the medical community, but not to police, unless they discovered it themselves.

And in general, we certainly never had time to be doing surveillance work for the police. If we see something particularly odd, we’ll turn it over to the officers, who will inform law enforcement.

Meth labs were our biggest concern, both as fire hazards and something that we’d notify law enforcement about. They’re fun an interesting places during a fire…….

Matt from CT December 4, 2007 11:25 PM

I haven’t read all the replies, so hopefully I’m not repeating too much.

1) The Fire Service has a history we’d rather not repeat of violating the trust of some parts of society. For instance, firefighters using hoses against the civil rights marchers.

What impact did the news footage of firefighters in rubber coats and fire helmets hosing down protestors in the early 60s contribute to the stones and bottles and bullets hurled at firefighters during the riots at the end of the decade?

2) Along that line, there is a very, very strong reaction from the fire service when police officers have from time to time dressed up as firefighters as a “ruse” to make it easier to effect an arrest.

While, in most states, the Fire Department has a legally right to force entry to investigate possible fires and other emergencies, it’s a right best and easiest used when someone cooperates and willingly lets us in. Having to get a cop there to arrest and remove someone blocking access slows down emergency operations.

We don’t want people to be suspicious of us having ulterior motives — or worse, being cops in disguise.

3) A significant problem in some areas is persons from other parts of the world who are extremely hesitant to call the Fire Department because the FD in those areas is part of the Police or Military and/or their are harsh punitive fines for minor fires. This is a major problem particularly among immigrants from several Aisan countries.

4) Despite the consensus of the fire service — not necessarily some idiot political Chiefs out to suckle some more political pork from Washington — that there should be bright lines between “police” and “fire” for reasons like those above, we fall prey to the same forces as everyone else.

Someone above mentioned EMTs keeping drug paraphenalia on the down low due to “patient confidentiality” Notions of confidentiality go out the window with any good idea some Left Winger or Right Winger thinks up. That same EMT in most places is also a “Mandated Reporter” for child abuse.

The training, at least what I took in CT from a represenative of the state social welfare agency was to say the least a joke. With mandated reporting having the discretion to go with your gut and report what you think is very wrong goes out the window. The whole training session in two sentence: If you wonder if it might be, call us and we’ll decide. If it’s false, there’s no penalty for reporting it; but if we find abuse later when you were there, you’re in serious trouble.

You know, anything you do is OK as long as it’s justified as
a) Against Drugs
b) Against Terrorists
c) Or for the Children.

Having firefighters specifically on the look out for stuff that doesn’t already stand out as “danger” is just another bad idea — that endangers firefighters and the public by creating an environment of distrust like it did after fire hoses were used on marchers, like it does in drug dealing communities when the police dress up like firefighters to fool them, and like it does in other nations were people will hesitate to call for help fearing they’ll be hauled off to a Singapore jail due to an accident.

There need not be an ironclad rule of confidentiality. At the same time, Firefighters and EMTs should exercise broad discretion and only breach that assumption of confidence when their own instincts tell them something just ain’t right that is endangering others in the community.

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