Fire/EMS Response to Civil Unrest Events

If there were a violent protest or civil unrest event in your community how would you respond?

If there were a violent protest or civil unrest event in your community how would you respond? Could you deal with numerous medical and fire calls during the event?

The 1st Amendment guarantees the people the right to peaceable assembly and to petition their government to address grievances. On occasion that line is crossed and public safety becomes a concern. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) defines a Civil Disturbance: An unlawful assembly that constitutes a breach of the peace or any assembly of persons where there is danger of collective violence, destruction of property or other unlawful acts.

Each year across the United States there are several acts of Civil Unrest that take place. Fire/EMS responders will encounter many challenges during their careers, some of which will include civil disorders, riots or protest situations. Annually firefighters and paramedics have been injured during these situations. As our society become more complex and gives rise to many intricate problems, first responders must gain a knowledge and understanding to solve these issues. Would your agency be able to effectively respond to a civil unrest event?

Civil unrest events can occur for a variety of reasons and are not just limited to large urban areas. These events can occur in several situations: peaceful demonstrations/protests that turn confrontational, violence related to major sporting events, concerts and "block party" parties that turn violent, planned political conventions that are disrupted because of activists, confrontations at "hot spots" such as abortion clinics or research labs and riots related to racial tensions.

Does your department have guidelines/procedures on dealing with civil unrest events? The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 states in section 6-7: Civil Unrest/Terrorism: "Fire Department shall develop and maintain written guidelines that establish a standardized approach to the safety of members at incidents that involve violence, unrest or civil disturbances. Such situations shall include but not be limited to riots, fights, violent crimes, drug related situations, family disturbances, deranged individuals, and people with fire department operations."

In planning for civil unrest events it is important to review an example of disturbances that have occurred in the recent past:

  • May 31, 2004 - Miami, Florida
    Authorities reponded to the scene and arrested some partygoers in Miami, Florida, after a riot broke out at a hip-hop festival. Included fighting and vandalism.

  • April 17, 2004 - Ames, Iowa
    1,000 students vandalized cars, looted stores and fought with police during an Iowa State University weekend festival.

  • November 17-20, 2003 - Miami, Florida
    Numerous injuries and arrests as police clash with protesters during "Free Trade Area of the Americas" political conferences.

  • November 6, 2003 - Kansas City. Missouri
    Marilyn Manson concert ended in chaos when the crowd rioted following the show's cancellation. Rocks, beer bottles and bottles filled with urine were thrown at the officers, the police fired pepper spray at the fans.

  • October 15, 2003 - Montreal, Canada
    A crowd infuriated by the last-minute cancellation of a punk rock concert tore through downtown Montreal, overturning cars and smashing into shops. Five people were injured.

  • June 16, 2003 - Benton Harbor, Michigan
    Firefighters were pelted by rocks and bottles as they responded to dozens of structure and vehicle arson fires during a riot. Three firefighters were injured and two apparatus damaged.

  • April 20, 2003 - Durham, New Hampshire
    An estimated 4,000 people rioted downtown after the UNH Men's Hockey team lost in the national championship game. More than 80 people were arrested. Beer bottles, full beer cans and rocks struck firefighters.

  • December 7, 2003 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Several injuries result from last minute cancellation of Guns N' Roses concert. Fans threw beer bottles and caused extensive damage to concert location.

  • November 25, 2002 - Columbus, Ohio
    Night of rioting, looting and arson fires after Ohio State defeated Michigan State.

  • April 6, 2002 - Minneapolis, Minnesota
    For six hours police clashed with over 600 students near campus after Minnesota defeated Maine for the NCAA men's hockey title.

  • March 31, 2002 - College Park, Maryland
    An estimated crowd of 5,000 students flooded the Maryland Campus and area neighborhoods after they lost to Duke in the men's NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament. Numerous acts of vandalism and rubbish fires were reported.

  • April 7, 2001 - Cincinnati, Ohio
    Racial tensions led to several days of violence. The result was scores of injuries, numerous vehicle, trash and structure arson fires, widespread damage and 800 arrests for looting and rioting. Several fire stations and fire apparatus were damaged.

  • 2001
    Violence associated with Mardi Gras celebrations erupted in Seattle, Philadelphia, Fresno and Austin, Texas.
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