Impersonation legislation is Selbyville-spurred

Clara Banks, a 91-year-old Selbyville resident, vividly remembers a frightening day earlier this year when, choking and fearing for her life, she called 911. A man, whose vehicle was affixed with sirens and a license plate normally associated with that of a trained emergency responder, was the first to enter her home and attempt to address the issue.

What officials came to learn later was that the man was not a trained emergency responder. Nor was he associated with any local emergency response organization, despite identifying himself as the head of the Selbyville Fire Department.

“I don’t know him from Adam,” Banks said of the man who first responded. Banks, who called herself “local as can be,” talked earlier this week from the Selbyville home she has occupied for more than seven decades. “I knew my ambulance person.”

It was not the first time the unqualified but well-equipped former Roxana resident, whose name has been left out of this article because he has since moved from the area and could not be contacted, attempted to intervene in an emergency situation.

When caught after this latest incident, police found equipment from several local fire departments in two of his vehicles, along with the siren and the license plate, according to Selbyville Police Chief Scott Collins, who said the man had been trained as an emergency technician more than 20 years ago but was denied entry into at least one local fire department.

Through the Selbyville investigation, Collins said that his force found at least 10 situations similar to what Banks described, where he responded to fires, vehicle accidents or other emergencies — using a pager to hear the calls and sometimes beat emergency responders to the scene — and attempted to render care.

“I believe he meant well. I don’t think there was any ill will. He wants to help. The problem is he has no training,” Collins said. “He may be trying to help, but he can do more harm than good. That was our big issue. He could not only hurt someone else but he could hurt himself.”

The latest Selbyville incident has spurred legislation in Dover that recently passed the House of Representatives and is expected to be discussed in the Senate early next month. Danny Short, a first-term representative from Seaford, introduced House Bill 134 at the request of the Delaware Fire Commission, worried that the string of incidents would not be isolated.

While Short said citizens are urged to help others in public who are in peril — many situations are covered by the Good Samaritans’ law, he said — he strongly advised against rendering care in an emergency situation such as the ones described earlier and introduced the bill to toughen penalties for those who do so under false pretense.

House Bill 134 would make it a Class G felony — which carries a maximum penalty of a $1,500 fine and a year in jail — to impersonate a firefighter, emergency medical technician or a fire policeman. It is an amendment to portions of Delaware code that already makes impersonating a police officer a felony.

When the man who entered Banks’ home earlier this year was apprehended, he was only tacked with misdemeanor trespassing and impersonation charges.

“I think it’s a pretty sensible bill,” said Short, a former Seaford County Councilman and fire chief who echoed Collins’ earlier statements. “It allows us to have some teeth when we need it.”

Danny Magee, a Williamsville farmer and state fire commissioner, pushed the bill and continued to receive updates last week.

“It’s a shame it had to come to this,” Magee said, “but I think it’s a great idea.”

As for Banks, she plans to be a bit more wary, even of those who appear official.

“I’m going to be more careful when I call 911 again, about who comes in my back door,” she said.