Close Calls: Firefighters Become Targets of Gunshot Violence

Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Hummert of the Maplewood, MO, Fire Department was shot and killed by a sniper who ultimately took his own life at the scene of a pickup truck fire.


This two-part column looks at those times when we know at there is potential violence and when we do NOT know. We look at a working vehicle fire in Missouri at which a firefighter was shot and killed, a house fire in New York where firefighters conducting a search “found a victim aiming a gun at...


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This two-part column looks at those times when we know at there is potential violence and when we do NOT know. We look at a working vehicle fire in Missouri at which a firefighter was shot and killed, a house fire in New York where firefighters conducting a search “found a victim aiming a gun at them” and a traffic accident at which a New York firefighter was shot in the back.

Our thanks to Chief Terry Merrell and the officers and members of the Maplewood, MO, Fire Department, in memory of Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Hummert; Chief John Randazzo and 1st Assistant Chief James A. Campbell Jr. and the officers and members of the West Babylon (Suffolk County, Long Island, New York) Fire Department and Chief Robert Taylor, Firefighter/EMT Justin Angell along with the officers and members of the Bellmore Fire Department, in Nassau County, Long Island, NY, for their assistance and cooperation.

 

The unavoidable: Missouri firefighter shot and killed at a vehicle fire

The intent of this close call piece is to help us identify what clearly IS avoidable and what is not. When we have ANY information that a scene MAY be violent, we MUST STAGE away from the scene and await orders from the police.

Of course, our intent is to help people – when we have the right tools, equipment and conditions. When we have information that the scene may be a “bad” one, the POLICE tell us when it is safe – and no one else. Our instincts that “it may be safe” are nonsense. The scene is not until the police say it is. Unfortunately, some situations that occur to us are unavoidable.

One such case occurred in the early morning of July 21, 2008, when the Maplewood, MO, Fire Department (MFD) received a call for a vehicle fire in a residential neighborhood at 5:40 A.M. This was 22-year old Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Hummert’s first fire call. Ryan began his career in August 2007 after graduating from paramedic training. He had just graduated from the St. Louis County Fire Academy in March.

The MFD responded, not unlike any of us would, to the reported truck on fire. What happened when the crew arrived was unimaginable – a psycho began shooting at the firefighters from a house window. The shooter had deliberately set the fire.

Firefighters arrived at the scene, saw the back of a pickup truck burning and stretched a line, having no idea that a gun was being aimed at them. Within moments of arrival, a bullet struck and immediately killed Ryan, Maplewood’s youngest firefighter, in the line of duty. No warning. Nothing other than the back of a pickup truck burning. “Shots fired. Firefighter killed in the line of duty.” Two police officers, Adam Fite and Sergeant Mike Martin, were shot and wounded. A crew of Maplewood firefighters and several police officers found themselves in the line of fire and risked their lives that day to save their colleagues and protect residents from a pathological sniper who ultimately took his own life. The members of the MFD will never forget the day that their newest firefighter/paramedic, the son of their former mayor, truly a “hometown” kid, was murdered on arrival at a truck fire.

In this case, there was absolutely no indication that a truck on fire would offer any risks to the firefighters or the police officers, other than the predictable roadway risk and the risks of a burning vehicle. As they responded that morning, they were doing what you and I would do – think about apparatus placement, blocking of the road, exposures and putting water on the fire. Nothing could have prepared them for the murder of one of their own.

About the MFD: The Maplewood Fire Department has 21 full-time members, consisting of the fire chief and three crews of six firefighters/EMTs each and a swingman. All members of the MFD are firefighter/EMTs or firefighter/paramedics. One member is a fire marshal and building inspector.

 

“Routine” search: Firefighters find a victim – with a gun aimed at them

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