Jan. 25--Firefighters in Georgia could one day be toting more than ladders, axes and hoses to fires.
They could be packing guns.
That is the intent of legislation introduced this past week in the General Assembly by Rep. Kevin Cooke, R- Carrollton.
The measure, which has been assigned to a committee for possible hearings, would allow city and county firefighters to carry guns openly or concealed if the department permits it.
It is not an idea that lights a fire with Brunswick and Glynn County fire chiefs. Without having read the entire bill, both chiefs say they would be hesitant to have firefighters carrying anything more than hoses to a fire.
"I think that's an issue best left to the police," Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley said of the proposal. "Let us carry the hoses."
He said city policy does not allow any employee, except police, to carry weapons on duty. Allowing firefighters to do so would create the potential for liability issues, Mobley said.
Mobley remembers hearing about the four Gwinnett County firefighters who were ambushed and taken hostage for hours in April 2013 by a man who was eventually killed by a police SWAT team. But he said an incident like that is rare and does not warrant his firefighters taking guns to fires.
Glynn County Fire Chief Al Thomas, who was a firefighter and paramedic before becoming chief, knows that emergency personnel sometimes unexpectedly walk into difficult situations.
"But there's a difference between our job and a police officer's," Thomas said.
Besides, he added, allowing firefighters to carry guns might mean more cost for municipalities that allow it because those who do would need to be trained.
Thomas said a framework for when, where and how they are allowed to use weapons would also have to be developed. "It could open up a whole other realm of issues," he said.
Thomas said situations in which a firefighter might need a weapon are too infrequent to worry about. When they do arise, he said he is comfortable calling police.
The legislation is in infancy and it could be a while before fire departments have to decide if they want to let their firefighters carry guns, but already, "I would be very, very hesitant to do that," Thomas said.
-- Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.
Copyright 2014 - The Brunswick News, Ga.