Firefighters Become Targets of Gunshot Violence

  This two-part column looks at those times when we know 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...


  This two-part column looks at those times when we know 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...


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This two-part column looks at those times when we know 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 First Assistant Chief James A. Campbell Jr. and the officers and members of the West Babylon, NY, Fire Department; and Chief Robert Taylor, Firefighter/EMT Justin Angell and the officers and members of the Bellmore, NY, Fire Department for their assistance and cooperation.

To stage or not to stage

Throughout fire and EMS history, there have been incidents that have resulted in the shooting, injury or death of firefighters. In so many cases, the incidents were avoidable. In those cases, the avoidability often becomes apparent when we are advised or know that there may be a weapon or a scene of potential Tiolence.

While we as firefighters and EMTs are “programmed” to do all we can to help someone, there are times when we simply cannot help until the scene is secure. First and foremost, these are police incidents first – and we then respond in when the scene is safe. As tempting as it may be, we cannot place ourselves or our personnel in harm’s way when we have information that there may be a violent related risk for us. Simply put – wait for the police.

“But someone may die and bleed out before the police arrive.” Understood, but wait for the police or you and your personnel may be the next target. “But I can see the victim lying right there. I can get to him quickly.” Understood, but again, wait for the police or you and your personnel may be the next target. “But people are yelling for us to come into the scene and help them – they need our help right away!” OK, what part of “wait for the police or you and your personnel may be the next target” do you not understand?

In those cases when you have information that the scene may be one of violence, consider these steps, as recommended by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), for your department to minimize the risk of similar occurrences:

• Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for responding to potentially violent situations

• When the slightest question or doubt exists, stage or remain in quarters until police determine the scene is safe

• Develop integrated emergency communication systems that include the ability to directly relay real-time information between the caller, dispatch and all responding units, including EMS, police and the fire department

• Make sure dispatchers, who often also handle police matters, understand that fire and EMS are part of the response and must know all the information that they may be giving to the police; the role of those in the communications center (or multi-communication centers) to effectively communicate and ensure the passing of information is a matter of life and death

• Provide body armor or bullet-resistant personal protective equipment (PPE) and train on and consistently enforce its use when responding to potentially violent situations

• Ensure all emergency response personnel have the capability for continuous radio contact and consider providing portable communication equipment that has integrated hands-free capabilities

• Consider requiring emergency dispatch centers to incorporate the ability to archive location, or individual, historical data and provide pertinent information to responding fire and emergency medical services personnel

• Develop coordinated response guidelines for violent situations and hold joint training sessions with law enforcement, mutual aid and emergency response departments

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