Fire/EMS Response to Civil Unrest Events

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

  • Pre-planning is critical if there is going to be a planned event.
  • Immediate interagency cooperation/Unified Command is essential.
  • Clear communications are necessary for effective operations.
  • Access to helicopters for overhead assessments is a plus.
  • Move or empty trash dumpsters since they are easy targets of arson.
  • Immediately extinguish fires if possible because they become a method of gathering large groups of individuals to one area.
  • Secure construction sites since they contain rocks, bricks, concrete, barrels and other items that demonstrators can use.
  • Will fill barrels with water or cement and use to block roads or roll down hills towards law enforcement.
  • Alcohol is a significant contributor to violence during events. In sports and concert events alcohol consumption has escalated violence and increased the number of inured persons.
  • Protesters will be organized and use such tactics as safe houses, surveillance and communications with radios/Nextels.
  • Have used "super soaker" squirt guns to spray ammonia, gasoline and other chemicals on law enforcement.
  • Molotov cocktails are a serious danger.
  • Protesters will use rocks, bricks, bottles, cans, fireworks, etc. Will also use devices such as slingshots or wrist rockets to shoot BBs, marbles, lug nuts and other similar items.
  • A human chain is accomplished through the interlocking of arms, legs, and bodies and is used to quickly block streets and intersections.
  • Protesters will use "locking devices" consisting of steel and plastic PVC pipes to lock arms. Also buckets, bike locks, drums and other devices are used to anchor individuals.
  • Bicycle locks, or homemade substitutes, are used to lock individual protesters together or to fixed objects.
  • Protesters will also place suspicious packages and call in bomb threats.
  • During civil unrest events 911 call volume will go up.
  • During the LA Riots two firefighters were shot and seriously injured. During the Benton Harbor riots several firefighters were injured by thrown debris.

Fire/EMS Tactics

  • Immediate interagency cooperation/Unified Command is essential.
  • Clear communications are necessary for effective operations.
  • For large scale or multi-day civil unrest event a secured multi-agency Emergency Operations Center (EOC) should be activated.
  • Plan on large media response.
  • Establish Task Force/Strike Teams.
  • Extra staffing and staging of equipment/personnel.
  • Mutual aid agreements should be implemented.
  • Fire personnel should wear full PPE at all times on-scene and responding to and from events.
  • EMS personnel should wear helmets and clearly marked EMS jackets at all times on-scene and responding to and from events.
  • If there is any doubt that that a responder is not seen as a firefighter or EMS responder wear a road vest or t-shirt with highly visible lettering.
  • Body armor should be obtained for those responding into the "impact" area.
  • Remove equipment such as axes, hooks and poles from outside of apparatus.
  • Placing duct tape in the windows of emergency response vehicles in the shape of an "X" may keep the glass from shattering and striking responders.
  • Always operate with a buddy.
  • Never leave pump panel operator alone.
  • No aerial company operations.
  • No laddering of structures or personnel on roof (life safety/rescue only).
  • No interior firefighting (life safety/rescue only).
  • Short hose lays, rapid attack, and quick "take-ups".
  • No overhauling and employ "hit and run" tactics.
  • Use of deck guns when possible.
  • May be necessary to abandon scene quickly.
  • Be prepared to leave vehicle and trash fires unattended if the situation warrants.
  • Be prepared to provide decon for multiple individuals exposed to law enforcement chemical agents such as OC, CN or CS.
  • EMS may need to implement disaster procedures such as triage tags, casualty collection points and field treatment areas for minor injuries.
  • Use of Tactical Medics in supporting law enforcement operations is encouraged.

Please follow local guidelines and procedures. This article is for informational purposes only.

Recognizing the threat of Civil Unrest events in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has tasked the Community Research Associates (CRA) in developing Civil Unrest planning and response courses for First Responders. Community Research Associates, Inc. (CRA) is a national research, training, and technical assistance firm. CRA offers two courses for Fire/EMS personnel titled The Managing Civil Actions in Threat Incidents (MCATI) programs. The MCATI Command Course brings together various public safety personnel charged with the responsibility of command, and educates them on how to plan a collaborative response to a civil disorder. The MCATI Protester Devices Course teaches fire and law enforcement personnel techniques that can be employed to safely extricate protesters from the various locking devices utilized during a civil disorder or demonstration. For additional information about the MCATI courses at CRA, please visit

There are also several excellent sources of information that you can utilize to update your plans. These include:

  • "When Violence Erupts" A Survival Guide for Emergency Responders Dennis Krebs, Baltimore County Fire Dept, Captain

  • "Intro to Civil Disturbances" Survival in a Hostile Environment Jerry Smith, LAFD (Retired)

  • "Task Force Report on Civil Unrest" Technical Report FEMA/NFA

  • "St. Petersburg, Florida 1996 Civil Disturbance" Technical Report FEMA/NFA