STOCKBRIDGE — Henry County and Clayton County authorities are investigating a string of thefts from firefighters’ vehicles parked at four area fire stations overnight Monday.
Early Tuesday morning, firefighters at Station No. 9 on Rock Quarry Road, Station No. 3 on Ga. Highway 42 and Station No. 11 on Flat Rock Road discovered their vehicles were broken into and personal items were stolen.
According to the Henry County Police Department, 19 total vehicles were broken into in Henry. The Police Department is handling the investigation into the Henry County crimes, though similar incidents were also reported at a Clayton County fire station Tuesday. Thieves also hit two stations each in Rockdale and Walton counties over the weekend.
In Stockbridge, thieves reportedly stole personal items and damaged both personal and county property, Henry County fire spokesman Capt. Michael Black said.
Black said that while he can’t comment on ongoing investigations out of multiple jurisdictions, “the likelihood is quite possible” that the recent incidents are related.
“Our focus is on the safety and security of our employees,” Black said. “Our minds are filled with disbelief knowing that someone would target firefighters that are obviously committed to serving our community.” He added that whoever is responsible for the crimes could not possibly represent the Henry County community as a whole.
As to why criminals would target fire stations, Henry County police spokesman Capt. Mike Ireland said he can only speculate.
“We don’t know if it’s targeted at the fire stations or if it’s an opportunity for these individuals to hit that location, we have no idea,” Ireland said.
Ireland said it’s possible the thieves are waiting for a station’s crew to be called out to a scene before breaking into the firefighters’ vehicles. Though in Rockdale, the fire chief said both stations’ crews were likely asleep at the time of the thefts, according to the Rockdale Citizen.
Four vehicles were damaged at Clayton County Fire Station No. 9 on Old Dixie Highway in Hapeville early Tuesday morning. Deputy Fire Chief Jacque Feilke said stations 14 and 8 on the northeastern side of Clayton County were also hit within recent weeks, and that Chief Landry Merkison is coordinating with Clayton County and Henry County police to investigate the crimes.
Unfortunately, Feilke said, “this is nothing new.”
There have been several reports of vehicle break-ins at metro Atlanta fire stations over the past few months.
The break-ins apparently began last November when stations in Atlanta and DeKalb County were hit, and have been continuing ever since. In January, four fire stations in Gwinnett County were targets, and in March, 27 vehicles at stations in Coweta and Fayette counties were hit, as well as stations in East Point and Forsyth County.
In March, the Morrow Police Department arrested a man suspected of stealing a firefighter’s personal vehicle from a Morrow fire station. The vehicle was tracked to a Forest Park home, and the homeowner was arrested.
Morrow police have not released the name of the homeowner, citing his possible connection to the recent crimes at surrounding fire stations.
Feilke said it’s disheartening to think that a firefighter could come off a 24-hour shift and discover their personal property damaged or stolen.
“These guys and girls are here for 24 hours, trying to respond to emergencies and take care of folks, and when they leave to go home in the morning they’ve got their vehicle broken into,” she said.
Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services is encouraging employees to not to leave personal items in their vehicles or to store them out of sight, and the fire chief will be working to determine any additional measures needed to deter thefts.
“We’re doing everything we can on our end,” Feilke said. “We’re just asking the public for their help.”
Feilke encourages anyone who may be passing by a Clayton County fire station at night to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, and to call 911 to report any possible crimes.