First At Scene in Full Gear; But He's Not A Firefighter - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/28/2007-Smith Co.

First At Scene in Full Gear; But He's Not A Firefighter

New details on a Christmas Eve fire in Smith County. Investigators now call the fire on Old Jacksonville highway suspicious. One of the men at the scene dressed as a firefighter was not a firefighter at all. 17 year old Austin Harden was arrested at the scene of the fire for allegedly carrying a prohibited weapon.

Investigators say he was at the fire in full bunker gear before anyone else arrived on the scene. And this is not the first time harden has found himself in this kind of trouble.

Monday the Flint Gresham volunteer fire department responded to a house fire just south of the Tyler city limits. Firefighter Josh Rawlings was one of the first people on the scene, but says Austin Harden had already beaten him there.

 "We were met at the scene at the engine by Austin who was already in gear. I asked him what he was doing there. He said he was there just trying to help out. I told him he was not a part of any department around there that it would be better for him to go ahead and leave," said Josh.

But 17-year-old Austin Harden didn't leave, more crews arrived on scene including Noonday. Both departments recognizing Austin.

"Austin was apart of Flint Gresham fire department for just a period about a month if that.

He had also previously been a part of Noonday's department.

Smith County Fire Marshal Oren Hale said the gear he was wearing belonged to Noonday and they took their gear back.

On a search, they found a switchblade and arrested Austin for carrying a prohibited weapon. Investigators say this is not his first run-in with the law.

"He was released. There was falsification of documentation," said Josh.

According to Smith County Sheriff's Department Austin Harden was arrested in August for impersonating a police officer.

Lying about that arrest cost him his job with the Flint Department, and suspension from a program training him about the life of firemen.

"He was a member of our explorer group. He joined the group back in April. The fire department explorer group is part of the boy scouts of America, it is a post from the boy scouts," said Jeff Akin with the Tyler Fire Department. "We try to groom boys into young men and teach moral values."

Values that Akin says all emergency personnel share, and when violated it shakes the core of what they stand for.

"Fire fighters, Police officers, EMS workers. We base our career on trust from the public," said Akin, "This is a major infraction of trust with the public. It sheds a bad light on firefighters in general when you have an incident like this."

The owner of the vacant home said a window screen had been removed from the window a few days before the fire.

Now, while investigators are looking at whether the fire could have been set on purpose, they are not calling it arson at this time. Smith County Fire Marshal's Office asks that anyone who may have seen something that night to please call them.

Danielle Capper, Reporting. dcapper@kltv.com

 

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