Fire & EMS Response To Improvised Explosives Devices

Each year across North America there are dozens of events involving actual and suspected IEDs. Unfortunately here in Iraq there are dozens of IED events weekly.

If a first responder (Fire, EMS and Law Enforcement) comes across a suspicious device/package during routine activities (meth lab response, salvage and overhaul, man down call, vehicle stop, etc.) immediately inform all personnel and leave the area. DO NOT USE YOUR RADIO for this activity until you are some distance away (100-300 meters) from the device.

If you find yourself next to an IED/APD take these steps:

  • Call out to other personnel to stop moving.
  • Stop and look around for any other devices, wires, etc.
  • Do not touch or move anything.
  • Do not operate light/power switches.
  • Move out of the area the same way you entered. Retrace your steps.

Remember that if you discover either an exploded or unexploded IED that you have discovered a crime scene and it must be treated as such. Several important decisions must be made at the scene. The Incident Management System (IMS) and Unified Command (UC) are some of the best tools for agencies to use to deal with these types of events.

Upon being notified of an actual or suspected IED the Incident Commander (IC) should implement the 4 C's RULE:

CONFIRM there is a device. CLEAR the area. CORDON off the location. CONTROL all entry and exit points.

An IED, UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) or APD (anti-personnel device) response is also similar to a hazardous materials response with your "zones of control": Hot Zone (where device is located), Warm Zone (where the perimeter will be established) and the Cold Zone (location of Unified Command Post, staging, etc.)

All appropriate agencies (Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement, Bomb Squad, OEM, etc.) should be notified as soon as possible.


Also remember that if there is an actual device there is a good chance that there is a secondary device present. Units must be aware of their surroundings and search the critical areas such as where the Command Post and staging will be located. In the Middle East there have been several incidents of secondary devices being left for first responders such as suicide bombings in Israel and the Madrid train bombings in Spain. In the U.S. there have been several cases of secondary devices being planted. Eric Rudolph was well known for planting secondary devices.

In the 1999 Columbine High School event there were several devices placed in the parking lots and near the typical emergency services staging areas. The two attackers in Littleton, Colorado had watched the fire department response to fire alarms at the school in the past and planted IEDs in those same areas. STAY ALERT!


E911 and dispatch systems should have a system in place to dispatch first response units to a suspected IED or UXO call. Words such as ?bombs? or ?IEDs? should not be used over the radio system. Remember that the media and public are listening!

Specifics of a call should be given over a vehicle computer type system or cell phones. In the event of an actual detonation with injuries, time becomes critical and should be dispatched as such. At that time there will be an overriding need for a rapid, coordinated response.

In the U.S., IED detonations have also been reported as other types of emergencies including the following:

  • Medical calls with burns or trauma
  • "Man down" calls
  • Structure fires, rubbish fires
  • Reports of explosions or "loud booms"


Another important lesson learned here in Iraq in regard to IEDs has been the use of "Tactical Medics". Having trained tactical medics integrated into our teams has proven to be a real life saver here in Iraq. They can provide medical care within seconds of an injury even under hazardous conditions or small arms fire. Both the military and contractor field teams continue to expand this valuable capability. Here in Iraq there are times we can be hours away from any field hospital or medical setting and it could take a considerable amount of time for a MEDIVAC flight to respond. This especially is when our team?s tactical medics have proven invaluable during incidents. There is certainly a demand for tactical medics in the United States.