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St. Petersburg firefighters foil purse snatching

ST. PETERSBURG — Firefighters tackle emergencies every day — blazes, car crashes and medical emergencies. On Sunday, three St. Petersburg firefighters doused a different type of emergency: a purse snatching.

The rescue unfolded about 1:30 p.m. That's when firefighters Brad Williams, Lt. Randy Kahle and their crew were returning to their downtown station from a call.

As Fire Engine No. 5 approached 22nd Avenue N near 34th Street, Kahle saw something suspicious: a man running across the street with something in his hand, Williams said. They pulled over and realized the something was a purse.

"He saw us and turned to walk towards Sweetbay (Supermarket)," Williams said. "The lieutenant said to check the guy out."

Williams said the firefighters called police and approached the man, who by now was stuffing the contents into his pocket.

The man said he found the bag and was attempting to return it. But the firefighters pressed him about what was in his pockets.

That's when, Williams said, the man dropped the purse and fled.

Williams and Kahle gave chase. Patrick Bennison, an off-duty fireman who had been inside shopping, joined the pursuit. The firefighters detained the man until police arrived.

As officers showed up, so did "at least seven" witnesses, Williams said. The man was a panhandler who, minutes earlier, had snatched the bag of an elderly woman who had obliged his request for 50 cents, authorities said.

Williams said detaining people is not part of their training. But in this case, instincts took over.

"We're here to serve the citizens of St. Pete, whether it be fire, accident, heart attack or purse snatching," Williams said. "You see something going wrong and we mitigated the problem."

Further information was unavailable late Sunday night.

St. Petersburg firefighters foil purse snatching 05/29/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 30, 2011 9:17am]
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