WASHINGTON (AP) — Firefighters in major cities are being trained to
take on a new role as lookouts for terrorism, raising concerns of
eroding their standing as American icons and infringing on people’s
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.
But there are
fears that they could lose the faith of a skeptical public by becoming
the eyes of the government, looking for suspicious items such as
building blueprints or bomb-making manuals or materials.
The Homeland Security Department is testing a program with the New
York City fire department to share intelligence information so
firefighters are better prepared when they respond to emergency calls.
Homeland Security also trains the New York City fire service in how to
identify material or behavior that may indicate terrorist activities.
If it’s successful, the government intends to expand the program to
other major metropolitan areas.
As part of the program, which
started last December, Homeland Security gave secret clearances to nine
New York fire chiefs, according to reports obtained by The Associated
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.
The trial program with Homeland Security opens a clear
information-sharing channel – which did not exist before – between the
fire service and Homeland Security’s intelligence division.