Bakersfield Fire Department: County wrong about fake firefighters

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) So-called impostor firefighters were actually real firefighters doing a legitimate task, the Bakersfield Fire Department said Tuesday. City crews say they were checking on smoke detectors.

The Kern County Fire Department warned the community Friday about "two men wearing blue uniforms with badges requesting entry into homes" in the 5300 block of Fairfax Avenue to check the smoke detectors. "If you see either of these immediately call 911," the warning said.

"Bakersfield firefighters were conducting their annual apartment complex inspection," Bakersfield Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza told Eyewitness News. "Usually with three or more units, we're required to go out every year and check smoke detectors. We do this randomly and knock on doors."

But, people answering those doors got suspicious. "More than two calls came into our dispatch center," Kern County Fire Capt. Sean Collins said. He said dispatchers checked various crews in their department, and found no one was working in that area.

The apartment complex is in the county, but city crews were the ones checking. "Technically (it's) outside the Bakersfield Fire Department response area," Galagaza said. "But (we) have been conducting inspections there annually for years."

He said half the street is in the city, the other half in the county -- on that stretch of Fairfax.

Galagaza said city fire crews do the yearly smoke detector inspections of apartments, under the "California Fire Code."

County crews say they do not. "No, we do not," Collins said. "Not in residential accommodations, no."

Collins said the county does promote use of smoke detectors with special neighborhood events.

Both departments say smoke detectors are vital.

Galagaza said city firefighters will ask to come into an apartment, check for the presence of a smoke detector and whether it's working. They'll check the battery, and get it replaced if that's not working.

In Friday's warning, the county said "Firefighters will never do unsolicited visits to any private residences."

But, the city fire spokesman said it's important to have random inspections of apartments, to hold landlords accountable.

The city fire department said the men on Fairfax on Friday were in full uniform, had proper identification and were driving a red department fire engine.

Both agencies stress their firefighters have department-issued identification, and residents can ask for that.

The Bakersfield Fire Department said they want the public to know that smoke detectors are inspected by their crews, and reports of firefighter impostors were found to be inaccurate.

But, concerned neighbors should take precautions if they have doubts about anyone asking to get in their apartment. "If you have any concerns whatsoever, go out and ask for proper ID," Galagaza said.

From the county, Collins echoes that advice. "If they're in doubt of their safety for any reason," he said. "Don't hesitate to call 911."