James Campbell seemed to relish being a firefighter, showing up in uniform at the World Trade Center, train wrecks, the aftermaths of hurricanes including Katrina and wildfires.
He even posed for his driver's license photo in a Los Angeles County firefighter's uniform.
The problem is, authorities say, he was never a firefighter.
Police arrested Campbell on Friday on suspicion of impersonating a firefighter, possession of stolen property and being a felon in possession of firearms.
Inside his apartment, officers said, they found a pile of official gear: dress uniform, flight suit, yellow firefighting suit, department patches, fire helmet, wallet badge and an L.A. County Fire Department radio. On Campbell's walls were hundreds of framed photos of him at disaster sites in uniform, authorities said.
"This is a guy who really wanted to be a firefighter. He wanted to act as a hero," Orange County Deputy District Attorney Andre Manssourian said.
Campbell even created a DVD of some of his firefighting excursions, which may have been used to promote his business, Frontline Safety Products, which sold safety equipment and taught first aid courses, mostly to construction companies and government agencies, Manssourian said.
Despite his efforts, Campbell had no chance of being a real firefighter. While working as a paramedic in Arizona, he was convicted of credit card fraud in 1987. His paramedic's license was revoked and the felony would have prevented him from joining the Los Angeles County Fire Department, authorities said.
"The public puts a lot of trust in firefighters," said Fire Department spokesman Sam Padilla. "People don't think twice about an unknown man with big baggy clothes or a uniform. It's a shame that someone is pretending to be a firefighter to take that trust and bend it, distort it."