Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Arming Firefighters Would be a Mistake

Following the sniper attack on four firefighters in the Rochester NY area, it was no surprise to read calls from some within the fire service to arm fire and EMS first responders. As it happens, it's not as rare an occurrence as some may think. Though not covered as intensely, assaults on responding firefighters is not a new phenomenon.  Ask any veteran from any major city such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and others.

One of the first thing we learned in training -- for me way back in the early 70’s -- was to watch out for thin paneling or carpet sections placed intentionally over holes in the floor meant only for first responders, whether armed with guns or hose nozzles. Urban firefighters learn to not stand too close to buildings in certain fire conditions, in order to avoid being pummeled by bricks or other objects dropped from the roof or windows. 

Arming fire and EMS personnel would be a mistake. Not because they couldn’t be adequately trained in firearms use and tactics, but because police and fire/EMS types enter a room immediately scanning for different priorities.  Where the cop scans for weapons, hand positions, posturing, or other potential threats, the firefighter or paramedic is looking for fire, smoke, structural damage or blood, signs of breathing difficulties, abnormal physical positioning, or other physical properties that may lead to injuries.  An cross-trained responder just can’t efficiently and accurately split their brains and do a simultaneous double scan.

Firefighters under attack is nothing new, so no new knee jerk reaction is necessary.