Photographer faces impersonation charge

Last modified: 8/26/2010 12:00:00 AM
The state police have confiscated the camera of a Concord photographer as they consider charging him with impersonating an emergency responder at a fatal car crash in Canterbury yesterday morning, officials said.

For about two years, Brian Blackden has been a regular at fire and disaster scenes in the Concord area as a correspondent for 1st Responder Newspaper, a monthly publication distributed to fire departments nationwide, and as a freelancer for local news outlets. He has also identified himself as a photographer for the Penacook Rescue Squad.

Blackden drives a converted ambulance with "1st Responder News" printed on the side and often dons protective gear for safety reasons, he said.

Blackden, 45, was wearing a fire coat and helmet yesterday as he snapped photos of the wreckage along Interstate 93 in Canterbury. Though the car was not on fire, he said wearing the gear is a routine procedure for him in case of an explosion.

But state police Lt. Scott Sweet said Blackden's dress blurs the line between journalist and emergency responder.

"You apparently have a member of the general public dressing as a firefighter to gain entry into areas they normally wouldn't have access to, for their financial benefit," Sweet said.

Trooper Christopher Decker seized Blackden's camera as he left the scene yesterday, Sweet said. Beforehand, Decker had called Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Susan Venus, who told him he could only take Blackden's camera if he was unable to verify for whom Blackden worked, County Attorney Katherine Rogers said.

Blackden said he told Decker he was at the scene yesterday with the Penacook Rescue Squad. About the same time he began working for 1st Responder Newspaper, Blackden said he was asked by squad members to be their photographer.

But Shawn Brechtel, the rescue squad's assistant chief, said Blackden does not hold a position in the department. He said he was not aware of anyone asking Blackden to become the squad's photographer.

Blackden said he also provided Decker with credentials from 1st Responder Newspaper and should be allowed to take photos regardless of his affiliations.

"It's a First Amendment issue," Blackden said. "If I have this issue, anybody can have this issue."

Sweet said the question is whether Blackden misrepresented himself at the scene.

"That's what we need to ascertain: whether he was there as a member of the fire department or whether he was there as a member of the media representing himself as a member of the fire department," Sweet said.

Under state law, a person can be found guilty of a misdemeanor first offense if they "indicate or imply that the person is a licensed emergency medical care provider" without the appropriate license.

Blackden, who also owns the store Pepper Defense Supply on North State Street, said his emergency medical technician license expired about 20 years ago. He said he has never posed as a firefighter or EMT. His fire helmet, he noted, says "photographer."

Blackden said he is often allowed into the thick of fire scenes in the Concord area to get up-close shots, but he said his clothing has nothing to do with it. Rather, it's because of "a good rapport and working relationship with the different departments," he said.

Concord fire Chief Dan Andrus said Blackden has showed up to many fires and has never represented himself as an emergency responder.

"I haven't experienced any negative incidents with him," Andrus said. "He simply is allowed the same kind of access as any member of the press would have to the scene."

Sweet said the state police are withholding Blackden's camera until they fully investigate his conduct at the scene yesterday and decide whether to bring charges.

Maj. Russell Conte said part of the investigation includes reviewing the photos taken by Blackden to determine whether he took any of the deceased victim, who has since been identified as 27-year-old Timothy Meserve of Dover. Blackden said he did not and has earned the trust of local fire departments because he is "not a sensationalist photographer."

Conte said he is also concerned Blackden may have "encroached on an active scene."

Blackden said he took pictures from a distance of at least 75 feet and was never in the way of any of the responders.

"We're not trying to keep anybody from good journalism," Conte said. "We're just trying to find out what the circumstances are."




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