First responders might be heroes, but they’re not superheroes. They’re not bulletproof. They bleed when they get shot or punched. And like all other human beings, they shouldn’t have to be subjected to violence.
Unfortunately, violence against responders is becoming an all too common occurrence.
That’s why the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) joined forces with leading fire service organizations to develop training material to keep firefighters and responders safe and out of harm’s way during violent situations.
John Oates, chief of the East Hartford (Conn.) Fire Department, authored a report for the NFFF called, “Nine Questions You Should Ask.” The NFFF officially released the report, recommendations and training material on Tuesday.
“This report is about Everywhere, USA,” said Oates during a press conference on Tuesday. “You never know where, or when you might find yourself in a violent situation.”
For example, what may look like a family barbecue could be an illegal fire with 100 burly drunk guys hanging around looking for trouble, Oates said. Or it could be a medical emergency at a corner bar where things got a little out of hand, and responders suddenly find themselves in the middle of a potentially dangerous situation.
As responders are trained to do at every scene, Oates recommends a quick size-up of any situation to get a feel for the potential for violence. That size-up should begin with information from the dispatchers, or law enforcement agencies already on the scene or responding, he said.
“It’s all about intelligence gathering,” Oates said. “We need to learn more about the situation before we decide to proceed.”
Oates said it’s always best to walk away from scenes that are dangerous or appear to be so.
“It’s OK to disengage,” Oates said, adding that he hopes officers will teach their responders that lesson as well, and develop a culture where that is acceptable. Responders go to emergencies to help, not to get beat up or shot, Oates said.
He added that it’s also important to look the part of a rescuer and someone there to help, not to enforce law, which could draw hostilities.
“What do you look like?” Oates asked. “Do you look like a law enforcement officer? Do you have a badge? Simple things like that. Maybe you need a billboard on your back saying you’re the fire department.”
When developing the report, Oates said he looked for a handful of things that every responding agent can do easily to help protect themselves from injury and death, hence the nine points.
They are as follows:
Nine Questions You Should Ask
1. Do you use risk/benefit analysis for every call?
2. Do you have an effective relationship at all levels with the law enforcement agencies in your community?
3. How good is the information you get from your dispatcher?
4. Do you allow members to “first respond” directly to the scene?
5. Does your law enforcement agency use an incident management system?
6. When responding to a potentially violent incident, do you seek out a law enforcement officer when you arrive?
7. Have you told your fire officers/personnel that it is OK to leave the scene if things start to turn bad?
8. Is there a point where you don’t respond or limit your response to violent incidents?
9. Is your uniform easily mistaken for law enforcement?
The “Nine Questions” list was developed as NFFF’s Firefighter Life Safety Initiative 12 which states: “National protocols for response to violent incidents should be developed and championed.” The NFFF has a total of 16 firefighter life safety initiatives which are part of its Courage to Be Safe program.
That initiative came out of the 2004 and 2007 Firefighter Life Safety Summits where fire service and responder representatives decided to develop response protocols for violent incidents.