State Fire Marshal: Beware of restaurant scam

Posted at 6:14 PM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-03 21:09:48-05

The Gem state's fire marshal has a warning for restaurant owners. He says ignore pranksters posing as firefighters.

While Idaho State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl doesn't know what the motivation behind the prank is exactly, he's not laughing. And, neither are the handful of restaurant owners and their employees who were tricked into activating their kitchen's fire suppression system.

Eight such incidents have been reported in Southern Idaho, with one in Wyoming and a similar type of call that resulted in extensive damage in California recently. Only three of the Idaho restaurants that received a call had employees carry out with the impersonator's instructions.

Whether or not the cases are directly related, Sandahl is hoping spreading the word will put an end to the costly prank.

Restaurant owners know the prank can have a devastating impact.

"It's loss of work, loss of business and income," explains Chef Josh Aaron, co-owner of Westside Drive-Ins in the Boise area.

Fire suppression systems are required in commercial kitchens. They're activated automatically based on a sensor or can be triggered manually.

Once activated, the system has to be reset. It's an act alone that can run anywhere from $1,500-$2,000.

On top of that, any food in the vicinity must be thrown away, and the kitchen must be thoroughly cleaned. In return, employees are out of a day's wage and customers are turning elsewhere to get their fill.

"Ultimately, this is a crime," Sandahl says. "Because of the property damage and the dollar amount we're talking about, they're felonies. And, if a suspect if identified and goes through [the criminal justice system], they could be looking at some serious jail time."

According to Sandahl, firefighters and/or fire suppression system vendors would never request an unsupervised activation over the phone. He says the best thing to do is just hang up the phone.

Aaron adds: "Hopefully, we can spread the word and have everybody be aware of what actually goes into such a prank. It's a terrible thing and could put someone under potentially. And, it effects everyone around them."