Fire Dept.: Uproar over ex-Eagle's 'firefighting' easily explained

Posted: September 04, 2014

EX-EAGLES LINEMAN Danny Watkins has traded football for firefighting, and Philly for Dallas.

Now he has some figurative fires to put out.

Sports blog Crossing Broad last week posted photos of Watkins in full firefighter gear at the scene of a city blaze in 2012, behavior that the blog claims goes against Philadelphia Fire Department policy. The post's author also says, via inside sources, that Watkins bribed his way onto the trucks with Eagles tickets.

But department officials who are investigating the situation say the uproar may be over a big misunderstanding: It's not uncommon, they say, to have civilians tag along with fire crews.

"For someone who doesn't know our policy, it could appear that he was impersonating a firefighter,"Executive Fire Chief Peter Crespo said. "But we have had ride-alongs in the past with media personalities and celebrities.

"This isn't abnormal."

Crespo stressed that the investigation into the photos is ongoing - the fire in question took place during previous Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers' tenure - but that these "ride-alongs" are routine for interns, students, reporters and anyone else willing to sign a waiver.

Such tours have strict rules, though: Participants must suit up in full gear as a safety measure, and aren't allowed to actually participate in putting out the fire.

Which may explain why Watkins was photographed in full uniform.

But what about his apparent tour of the fire scene, as depicted in other photos?

That, too, is easily explained, Crespo said.

"With anybody that rides along, as long as the scene is declared safe, the ranking crew member can allow an instructional tour of the damage that occurred," he said. "Which, out of context, could appear to be firefighting."

The ticket-giving allegations also may be a misunderstanding.

Crespo said Ayers had a standing promotional agreement with several pro teams, including the Eagles, in which game tickets and other memorabilia were donated to Fire Department events to raise money for charity.

He cited an event in 2011 when several players, including Watkins, toured a city firehouse and snapped photos with its crew.

"This is still very much an ongoing investigation," Crespo said, "but from preliminary info, everything appears to be in regular practice."

A spokesman for the Eagles did not return a request for comment.

Watkins, 29, retired from the NFL last month. His publicist told at the time that he had relocated to Dallas and had become a professional firefighter, having received training before joining the league.

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