A person can go to jail for impersonating a police officer. But is it against the law for a police officer to pretend he or she is a firefighter?
Salt Lake County firefighters say it may be legal but that doesn't make it right. They say deputy sheriffs - who posed as county firefighters to make a drug bust Friday night - have endangered firefighters' lives."We've been used," Fire Lt. Dennis Steadman said. "If drug dealers think firemen are undercover agents, who knows what can happen the next time we go out on a call?"
Deputy sheriffs donned firefighter suits and jumped in a Salt Lake County fire truck at 9:30 p.m. Friday hoping to get into a home known for drug trafficking.
"It was the safest, most reasonable way to get in there without a big shootout," Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard said.
Kennard said the home had been raided twice before and the doors and windows were reinforced with steel bars. Additionally, the occupants were heavily armed.
"There was no way we could have gotten in there with a battering ram," Kennard said. "We just didn't want to get anyone hurt."
Two county fire investigators cooperated with the sheriff's office in planning the bust but "didn't have a good understanding about what was happening," said Salt Lake County Fire Chief Larry Hinman. "It was a midmanagement decision and in the future that sort of thing will have to come to my level."
Kennard said there was extensive planning with the county fire investigators and that one of the investigators drove the deputy sheriffs in the fire truck to the home. "As far as I'm concerned, this was done in full cooperation with County Fire," Kennard said. "It couldn't have been more orchestrated and they could have pulled out at any time."
The action so angered county fire officials that they released a statement decrying the cooperation and assuring their firefighters that "county fire equipment will not be used in the future by law enforcement agencies."
Steadman said many firefighters were concerned they would be targeted by drug dealers who are angry about the impersonations.
"Word travels fast in the drug community," he said.
The impersonation tactic apparently worked for deputy sheriffs. Officers entered the house without any shots fired or injuries inflicted.
Kennard said five arrests were made and an undisclosed amount of marijuana was seized.
"I thought it was a successful act of cooperation," he added.