Fire/EMS Response to Civil Unrest Events

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

Civil unrest events have occurred at or near college campuses when teams have either won or lost critical football or basketball competitions. Each year during March Madness college towns are rocked by civil unrest events, as students become disorderly following tournament basketball games involving their school's team. If your town has a team at the NCAA or other major sporting event, have you planned for the Fire/EMS response to civil unrest situations?

Does your jurisdiction host large political conventions and conferences? Past experience at such events such as the Republican National Convention (RNC), Democratic National Convention (DNC), G8 Summit, World Trade Organization (WTO), and International Monetary Fund (IMF), etc. have shown the need for pre-planning and inter-agency communication.

It is important that Fire/EMS agencies meet with local law enforcement to develop agreements concerning police support during critical events. With any of the events described above there will be a large increase in medical and fire calls. As numerous anti-war protests and mass marches occurred across the United States in October and November of 2003 the FBI distributed Intelligence Bulletin# 89 titled "Tactics Used During Protests and Demonstrations". The bulletin addressed activist's use of training camps, surveillance, violence, vandalism and other tactics.

Law Enforcement, Fire and EMS all share the same priorities during a critical incident. Planning and inter-agency cooperation for any event should be paramount. Several issues will need to be addressed. Law Enforcement will need Fire and EMS coverage during the event. Firefighters may need to extricate protesters from locking mechanisms devices. EMS may need to provide tactical medics. Law Enforcement will need to provide security and over watch for Fire/EMS units entering the "exclusion area" or "hot zone" of a civil unrest event. Will the Fire Dept still use hose lines to "disperse" protesters at the direction of law enforcement? Several critical questions will need to be answered.

There will be a tremendous need for a coordinated effort among all agencies to ensure a safe and effective response. SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT FOR ALL RESPONDERS! Trained tactical medics from law enforcement agencies, fire service, and emergency medical services are an excellent resource to use during these types of events. Tactical medics are specially trained and equipped firefighters/paramedics who to provide specialized casualty medical care and support to law enforcement tactical operations. For additional information on tactical medics and tactical medic training see visit Tactical Element online at"

In 1994 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) formed a multi-agency Civil Unrest Task Force after several civil unrest events and released a Task Force Report with recommendations and guidelines on preparing for Civil Unrest events. FEMA also produced a Technical Report in November of 1996 on Fire/EMS Operations during the 1996 St. Petersburg, Florida riots. Information on both documents are available at

There is a tremendous amount of Civil Unrest information on pre-planning, training, lessons learned, community relations, protester tactics/devices, response, and other important issues that cannot be covered in this article due to time and size constraints. This article will focus primarily on the "Fire/EMS Response to Civil Unrest Events". Please follow local guidelines and procedures. This article is for informational purposes only.

Experience with past civil unrest events have shown: