Several Oakland firefighters have expressed concerns about safety and racial bias following a series of incidents involving a Black fireman who was not only reported to the police, but videotaped and interrogated by a resident while out conducting city-mandated inspections.
Last month, firefighter Kevin Moore was the subject of a 911 call to police while performing a standard exterior inspection on a home in Oakland hills, despite being in full uniform with a radio and clipboard in tow, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The inspections are part of city firefighters’ summer duties, in which they go around and conduct what is called “vegetation management inspections” to ensure there aren’t any hazards, such as tree limbs hanging over chimneys or a buildup of dead plants around a home. The goal? To decrease the chances of a wildfire spreading from house to house.
According to the newspaper, firemen usually try to speak with residents before encroaching on their yards by knocking on front doors or ringing doorbells. They’re required to conduct the inspection even if no one is home, however.
“I try to put myself in other people’s shoes — like if I see someone in my yard, I would ask what they’re doing,” Moore explained. “That is why I always call out, ‘Hello! Hello! Oakland Fire Department!’ Because I want to be heard. I just don’t want somebody to look out their window and see somebody in their backyard. I’m not trying to be incognito.”
Moore’s colleague, Megan Bryan, was an acting officer that day and recalled getting a call from a 911 emergency dispatcher to confirm they were indeed out doing inspections.
“I knew that [Moore] was the one on that street,” Bryan said of the May 16 incident, telling the Chronicle the situation left her frustrated and annoyed because no one had ever called the cops on her or other white firefighters for performing a routine inspection.
Later that day, inspection supervisor Vincent Crudele said he received an email forwarded by a police community liaison of a resident’s home security footage showing Moore as he carried out an inspection.
“It’s obvious he’s doing an inspection,” Crudele told the newspaper. “Kevin is wearing his blue wool firefighter pants, he’s got a radio and (a department) jacket and shirt on.”
“It’s unfortunate that somebody would mistake an Oakland firefighter, a professional who would go into harm’s way every day to protect citizens, as someone who was there for criminal intent,” he continued. “Kevin’s out there doing his job well and representing the Oakland Fire Department with the highest integrity.”
The resident cites Moore’s sneakers as the reason he might be a faux firefighter, Crudele said of the incident. That wasn’t the worst of it, however.
On a separate occasion, Moore said he was questioned and videotaped by a resident who wanted to know what the Black fireman was doing on his property. He said he did his usual routine: knocked on the front door and waited a moment before yelling, “Oakland Fire!” With no answer, Moore carried on with the inspection, noting the many vegetation hazards in his paperwork, the Chronicle reported.
As he finished up, the fireman turned around to see a man standing on the porch, filming him with a cellphone.
“He kind of startled me,” Moore recalled. “He says, ‘Well, what are you doing here?’ I say, ‘We’re here doing our annual vegetation inspection.’ Then he asks for ID. I say no problem. He takes a picture of my ID and says I need to get a different one. I have had that ID for years. It’s kind of dark, and I’m more of a dark-skinned Black guy — but you can still see me.”
The fireman said he then pointed the concerned resident to the “big red fire engine” that was parked out on the street. It was only then that the man stopped questioning him and started making excuses for his vegetation violations.
Worried about her colleague’s safety in the wake of the recent incident, Bryan said she plans to pair up with Moore during inspections from now on. She said she’ll conduct the yard walk-through while Moore takes inspection notes.
“It’s our work to do with other white people, to check our implicit biases and racism,” she told the paper, adding that it’s not Black people’s responsibility to soothe white folks’ race-based fears. “It’s not fair to him, and it’s actually not safe for him to be going into these backyards due to the sociopolitical climate.”