SEMINOLE — After Seminole Fire Rescue firefighters showed up early Sunday morning to treat an ill person, deputies say his friend had a curious way of expressing his gratitude.
He stole a firefighter's helmet from inside a fire engine, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Christopher James Bergling later apologized for the theft and returned the helmet, deputies said. The 21-year-old was arrested on charges of grand theft, burglary of an unoccupied vehicle and possession of a controlled substance.
The red fire helmet is worth $500. It belonged to Lt. Thomas Winkler and was stolen from the officer's seat, or the passenger seat, of Engine 30, authorities said.
The engine was sent to a 2:30 a.m. medical call at 8771 Starkey Road, according to deputies. But once there several acquaintances of the patient kept interfering with firefighters, according to the Sheriff's Office. They were asked to leave the home to allow the firefighters to work. They did, deputies said, but once outside Bergling entered the unlocked fire engine's cockpit and took the helmet.
"What if there was another call and he didn't have access to his helmet?" said Assistant Fire Chief George Bessler. "It could have slowed down our response. It could have left him without an important piece of equipment."
Firefighters are only required to lock vehicle compartments that hold medication, Bessler said. Locking every compartment, including the cabin, would take up too much time during an emergency, the assistant chief said.
The lieutenant didn't notice the theft until around 7:42 a.m. and then called deputies, who tracked the helmet down.
Bergling, of 8872 Magnolia Dr., may have been drinking at the time, deputies said. He was being held in the county jail Tuesday in lieu of $7,000 bail.
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