Close Calls: Firefighters Become Targets of Gunshot Violence

In this two-part column, we look at the differences between when we know at the time of the run that there is the potential for violence and when we do not know. We looked at the working vehicle fire in Maplewood, MO, where Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan...


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Thankfully, Justin was talking and all his vitals appeared to be good. I popped my head into the cab to let Dean know his brother was doing OK. I wanted to keep Dean calm and updated on Justin’s status.

 

This account is by Bellmore Fire Department Chief Robert Taylor, who responded directly to the scene; First Assistant Chief Daniel Holl also contributed to this account:

I was about a block away when I heard Ambulance 6011 arrive with a corrected location, just two blocks south of the location that we were dispatched to. About two seconds later, Dean Angell, who was the driver of 6011, and who is also Justin’s brother, yelled over the radio, “Shots fired! He’s shooting at us!”

I rounded the corner onto the block to see 6011 backing up at a high rate of speed and heard Dean sounding the air horn that is mounted on 6011 – they were heading right at me! I pulled to the side and that’s when I saw Justin leaning on Firefighter Matt Podolski’s car. I got out of my chief’s car and Matt yelled, “He’s shot, Justin’s shot!” Justin then collapsed on the grass. Matt was right by his side and started to evaluate his injuries. My two assistant chiefs pulled up. With the gunman still not detained and the Nassau County Police Department still not on scene, I heard my second assistant chief transmit to the dispatcher to keep everyone off the block. I ordered 6011 to pull up so we could get Justin in the ambulance. Dean exited the ambulance to help us get Justin into the ambulance. It was at this time when Dean learned his brother had been shot by the crazed gunman. Matt, Dean and I then scooped Justin up and put him in the ambulance. They immediately left for the hospital.

I ran back to my first assistant chief and gave him a quick rundown of what had happened. I also immediately told him to follow the ambulance to the hospital. As 600-01 (the first assistant chief) left the scene, the crazed gunman began shooting numerous rounds at us. My second assistant chief (600-02) and I took cover behind our cars. No other members were present on scene, but several more units were responding, as heard on the radio. My thought was not wanting to put any other units and personnel in danger. I ordered all units to stay off the block. I also had a staging area set up at Engine Company 2. This is our firehouse that is approximately three blocks south of the accident scene. I also radioed the dispatcher for a forthwith police response since they had not yet arrived and the gunman was still a threat to my assistant chief, me and also the members of the community.

Within moments, the Nassau County police arrived and secured the scene. Once the fire department was no longer needed at the scene, I responded to the staging area to brief the members who responded to the alarm. My second assistant chief and I then responded up to the hospital to be with Justin.

 

The following comments by Chief Goldfeder are based on the accounts featured in this two-part column:

These incidents literally “came out of nowhere” as fire and EMS personnel responding had no indications that anything would be different, other than what they were dispatched to. While size-up must be done while arriving at any incident and we look for the unexpected, sometimes there is simply nothing we can do and we learned about those tragic results from these accounts.

There have, however, been many other incidents that have resulted in the shooting (or related, such as stabbing) injury or death of firefighters and EMTs that were avoidable. As eager as we are to help, never forget that these are police incidents first and we respond in only when the scene is safe as determined by the police.

We cannot place ourselves or our personnel in harm’s way when we have the slightest bit of information that there may be a violence-related risk for us. Always wait for the police. No matter how bad it may be or sound, you are not expected to enter a scene of violence without the authorization and protection of law enforcement.