During the last week of July, fire officials in the Bay Area city of Campbell reported that two men had been seen videotaping routine activities at a fire station.
The men were reportedly in their 20s or early 30s, and one was using a sophisticated news media-style camera.
When firefighters attempted to talk with the men, they reportedly jumped into a waiting car and sped off.
The incident prompted the Sacramento Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center to send out a request for Northern California fire stations to watch for similar incidents, and report them immediately.
The day the request went out, Sept. 6, a second, similar incident was reported at a fire station in Yuba City.
According to officials, a fire captain encountered two men parked outside the city’s main fire station. One of the men got out and allegedly began taking pictures of the fire station’s administration building. When the captain approached the men, to tell them they were in a no-parking zone, the photographer jumped in the vehicle and the men left.
The man who took the photos was described as being between 30 and 40 years of age.
On Sept. 12, Fresno Fire Department officials spotted two men in a vehicle allegedly observing activities at a fire training center. When questioned, the driver reportedly said they were just checking things out, then left immediately.
Two days later, on Sept. 14, personnel from the Sacramento Metro Fire Department noticed two men taking photos
of a fire station. A third man sat in the back of a car, and appeared to be drawing or taking notes.
When fire officials walked toward them, the two taking pictures jumped in the vehicle and sped away.
The men allegedly took pictures in front of the station, and in the rear. They ranged in age from late teens to about 60, officials recalled.
Tim Johnstone, a commander with the threat assessment center in Sacramento, said all of the incidents are being investigated, but there is no indication they might be related.
“We aren’t considering this a specific threat at this time; we’re just asking our public safety partners to be on the watch for suspicious activity,” he said.
He said the threat assessment center was formed to act as a collection point for homeland security intelligence, and disseminate it appropriately.
Jay Alan, deputy director of communication for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is concerned about security agencies sharing information, and has made it a top priority.
Local officials said no suspicious incidents involving videotaping or photos have been reported at fire stations.
Fire department personnel are being asked to take note of vehicle descriptions, descriptions of suspicious subjects, and complete license plate numbers. Citizens who witness suspicious activity, near fire stations or elsewhere, should do the same, and report it to their local law enforcement agency.
Citizens should not attempt to contact suspicious individuals.
Staff writer Greg Welter can be reached at 896-7768 or firstname.lastname@example.org.