Fake fireman robs Chicago businesses

March 10, 2010 5:50:31 AM PST
Two businesses in Chicago have been robbed by a fake fireman.The man dressed in a fire department sweatshirt has posed as a fire inspector and told a North Side bar and a health club.

The Chicago Fire Department conducts inspections to make sure businesses are safe for the public. The department says the two recent incidents threaten to undermine the credibility of its employees.

So Tuesday, the fire department offered guidance about legitimate inspectors.

Saturday morning was busy morning for Lakeshore Athletic Club on Stetson. At about 8:30 a.m., a man came in claiming to be a Chicago fire inspector. He wanted to see the facility's fire extinguishers.

"He looked at it, said we were in violation, that the tags were expired. So, he went on to say that he was going to shut us down," said Eva Gonzalez of Lakeshore Athletic Club.

Club management began looking for verification that their extinguishers were in compliance, and the alleged fire inspector went down to the spa telling an employee her manager sent him down to get money.

"She said okay and gave him the money. Then, at that point, he came up and went into the office of another employee and took money out of their wallet," said Gonzalez.

The alleged inspector made off with more than $500.

Early Tuesday, a man wearing a Chicago Fire Dept. sweatshirt went to Burton Place Bar, asking to talk with the employee's boss about an emergency.

The alleged firefighter also left with cash from the bar.

Both incidents are troubling to the Chicago Fire Department.

"If they ask for any money, that's the flag number one. We don't take money. We don't take credit card. We don't take checks. We don't take cash. So, if they're asking...that's illegal," said Deputy Comm. Nicholas Russell of the Chicago Fire Dept.

Deputy fire commissioners say any legitimate fire inspector would carry identification and would be wearing official fire and city patches and have badges.

"You can see on all our sleeves are clearly marked with some kind of identification, even on the sweatshirt, not like what we heard this individual was wearing," said the department's Deputy Comm. Gene Ryan.

At the Lakeshore Athletic Club, management will look more carefully the next time someone claims to be an inspector.

"Moving forward, we'll definitely ask for IDs, and if it's something we don't feel comfortable with, we'll call and follow up," Gonzalez said.

Chicago police continue to investigate the incidents. They say they hope surveillance can assist in identifying the perpetrator.

In the meantime, if you suspect someone is impersonating a fire inspector call 911.