Fire & EMS Response to Civil Unrest Events

August Vernon discusses your department’s preparedness when responding to acts of civil unrest.

If there was a report of a violent protest or civil unrest event in your community, how would you respond? Could you deal with numerous medical and fire calls during this type of event? Acts of civil unrest take place each year across the United States. Fire and EMS responders will...

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  • For large-scale or multi-day civil unrest, a secured multi-agency emergency operations center (EOC) should be activated.
  • Expect a large media response.
  • Establish task forces or strike teams when possible.
  • Arrange extra staffing and staging of equipment and personnel.
  • Implement mutual aid agreements.
  • Fire personnel should wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times on-scene and responding to and from events. EMS personnel should wear helmets and clearly marked EMS jackets. If there is any doubt that a responder is identified as a firefighter or EMS responder, wear a road vest or T-shirt with highly visible lettering.
  • Provide body armor for those responding into the “impact” area.
  • Remove equipment such as axes, hooks and poles from the outside of apparatus.
  • Placing duct tape in the windows of emergency response vehicles in the shape of an X may keep glass from shattering and striking responders.
  • Always operate with a buddy.
  • Never leave the pump panel operator alone.
  • No aerial company operations.
  • No laddering of structures or personnel on roof (life safety and rescue only).
  • No interior firefighting (life safety/rescue only).
  • Short hoselays, rapid attacks and quick “take-ups.”
  • No overhauling and employ “hit-and-run” firefighting tactics.
  • Use deck guns when possible.
  • Be prepared to leave vehicle and trash fires unattended if the situation warrants.
  • It may be necessary to abandon a scene quickly.
  • Be prepared to provide decontamination for multiple individuals exposed to law enforcement chemical agents.
  • 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.
  • Always use escorts by law enforcement personnel.


For public safety agencies and special operations teams that are involved in planning and training for civil unrest and protest incidents, it is critical that Operations Security (OPSEC) be utilized in planning and trainings. Extremists and organized criminals can take weeks and months to select their targets and plan their operations. To be successful, they need specific information about personnel, response plans, capabilities, and infrastructures. OPSEC is a five-step risk-management process used by military and security professionals to protect sensitive information that adversaries could use.

“OPSEC for Public Safety” is a new course being offered by the Interagency OPSEC Support Staff for first responders and public safety agencies. The workshop provides practical examples of using OPSEC in the public safety world. Participants will also learn how terrorists collect intelligence and plan their operations, how to identify areas vulnerable to an attack and countermeasures that can protect information that needs to be secure.

For additional information, access


Most emergency responders will not have to deal with civil unrest events, but every community should have a plan in place to address them. The more public safety agencies prepare for such incidents, the better they can respond to effectively manage any situation that may arise. The community has entrusted us with its safety, so let’s prepare now.

August Vernon is the assistant coordinator with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, NC, Office of Emergency Management. He recently returned from a year in Iraq as a security contractor. Vernon is also an adjunct instructor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s OPSEC for Public Safety program. He has been involved in emergency management since 2000 and a member of the fire service since 1990. Vernon served in the U.S. Army as an NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) Operations Specialist. Vernon is involved in teaching terrorism/WMD related subjects and can be reached reference for questions or comments at