Clipboard in hand and sporting his dark blue uniform, Kevin Moore was among several firefighters who fanned across the woodsy, upscale neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills last month to inspect homes for potential hazards before California's fire season ramps up.
Except Moore, who is black, was reported to police. And last week, while checking another person's home for overgrown vegetation, a resident confronted Moore, filming the veteran firefighter with a cellphone and demanding to see his ID.
Frustrated by the treatment Moore has encountered on the job, fellow Oakland firefighter Megan Bryan posted on Facebook about the incident, noting that she, a white woman, "has never had the cops called on me, in uniform or not."
"I've never been videoed," she added, "nor has anyone ever asked or my Fire Dept. ID..."
During these vegetation management inspections — which residents are notified of ahead of time — firefighters try knocking on doors or ringing doorbells before entering the property. If residents are not at home, the fire department is required to conduct the review anyway, examining yards for dry vegetation, low-hanging tree limbs, and other fire-spreading hazards.
While out on a shift in the Oakland Hills, Bryan said, she got a call from a 911 emergency dispatcher checking to make sure that the fire department was actually doing inspections in the area.
A woman, thinking Moore looked suspicious in her backyard, had called police. Annoyed, Bryan, who knew Moore was on that street, confirmed that the engine company was there.
"She also sent security footage of my coworker to the police dept., saying she suspected criminal activity at her house," Bryan wrote. "Let me explain to you we drive a big red fire engine to these houses, wear our uniforms, wear a radio on us and carry an iPad/clipboard."
Oakland police forwarded the security video to Vincent Crudele, who leads the fire department's vegetation management unit.
"It shows him properly doing his job," Crudele told BuzzFeed News. "It's very obvious, actually, because he is wearing his jacket, radio, and was out there representing the department and ensuring that people and their homes are safe."
During the second encounter, Moore was going through the standard routine: knocking on the door, yelling "Oakland Fire," and then waiting a few minutes before proceeding with the inspection. As he was wrapping up, he turned around to find a man recording him on his cellphone and demanding to see two forms of identification.
"He kind of startled me," Moore told San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported the story. "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’ve 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 firefighter then directed the resident's attention to the "big red fire engine" parked on the street.
After Local 55, Moore's engine company, shared the Chronicle story on Facebook, some residents pushed back on claims that the homeowners were acting with racial bias.
"What the SF Chronicle reporter doesn't tell you is that we have an extremely high rate of property crimes in the Oakland Hills, and home burglaries are at the top of the list. I know of many homes with a short distance of my home that have been burglarized," one person wrote in the comments, suggesting that "criminals wear official-looking gear and have fake ID."
Dan Robertson, president of the Oakland firefighters union, said that what happened to Moore was frustrating given that "Kevin is one of the best firefighters we have."
"He has been with the department a long time and he has incredible work ethic and is a man of great integrity," Robertson told BuzzFeed News. "He was honored for bravery and heroism in 2008 and that doesn't even compare to everything else he has done."
But while the recent incidents are disheartening, they are not shocking, Robertson said.
"We show up every single day to put our lives on the line and we don't know these people, their beliefs or biases, but we swear to protect them no matter what," he said. "It's disheartening that we've had to deal with this in 2018. Fortunately this time it was with a camera and not a gun."