The phrase “scene safety” is hammered into our brains all throughout our training. Dispatchers try their best to make sure the scene of an emergency is safe before “clearing” us to make entry, we assess for hazards before making patient contact, and we watch each other’s backs at all times. We wear gloves to prevent the spread of disease, seat belts to protect us in the event of a collision and safety vests to lessen the chance of being struck by a motorist on the side of the road. We drive at safe speeds to reduce the chance of vehicle collisions, we lift with our knees instead of our backs to prevent back injuries and if somethings smells or looks funny, we leave it alone so we don’t get sick. Our biggest job is going home at the end of the day. We try our best to stay out of harms way and make it home to our families every shift.
But how do we protect ourselves from this?
Brown called 911 and said he was suffering from chest pains, and five Gwinnett County firefighters arrived at 3:48, believing it was a routine call, said Police Chief Charles Walters. Brown was lying in bed and appeared to be suffering from a condition that left him unable to move. But when they approached the bed to help him, he pulled out a handgun, Walters said.
A man calls 911 complaining of chest pain. A Routine call, right? He acts like any other patient when he speaks to dispatchers. There are no obvious dangers in front of, or inside of the residence. He is calm and presents like many of our patients do. No danger here, just a routine medical call. I can only imagine that the responders involved with this incident didn’t expect to become hostages when they reached the bedside.
I have often feared incidents like this. The fact is, we are never safe. We are easy targets and we carry what many people want. I’m not the slightest bit surprised that this happened. What does surprise me, is that this doesn’t happen more often. It should be no surprise that a deranged individual would pick a target such as a paramedic or firefighter. They know we aren’t armed and they know we will come inside their home to any room they choose.
Fortunately, this guy had motives other than immediately killing the responders. The 4 firefighters who were shot while responding to a structure fire last December, weren’t so lucky:
WEBSTER, N.Y. — A gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters responding to an intense pre-dawn house fire Monday morning outside Rochester, N.Y., killing two before ending up dead himself, authorities said. Police used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 nearby residents.
Nobody anticipates getting shot at a structure fire, and we shouldn’t have to, but that is the world we live in. There are a lot of bad people out there that wish to cause harm and we must prepare ourselves so that we can respond appropriately. There is simply no way to prevent incidents like this. There aren’t enough cops to secure every scene before we enter and we haven’t developed a way to read minds. That leaves us with 2 choices. We either continue to do business as usual and place ourselves at the mercy of people that wish to cause harm, or we prepare ourselves so that we don’t become victims. I make no secret about the fact that I support concealed carry for EMS providers, and this is exactly why. We run into the same neighborhoods and deal with the same people that the cops do, only we have no way to defend ourselves.
Any time I bring up the argument about concealed carry in EMS, I get the “we’re not cops” and “we shouldn’t be entering unsafe scenes” response. Guess what, guys? There are no safe scenes. Another popular argument is that we use “Verbal Kung Fu” to talk our way out of situations. That doesn’t do much to stop a 9mm round. We take every precaution possible to avoid placing ourselves in harm’s way, but we simply can’t stop these things from happening. In both of the cases mentioned, the responders did what any of our peers would have done. They didn’t try to be a hero or engage in conflict. They just showed up to a call for service and found themselves becoming victims.
I’m not asking anyone to “issue” guns or mandate that paramedics or firefighters carry firearms. All I’m asking is that I not have to check my right to self-defense at the time clock. If I have a legal right to carry a concealed firearm – whether it be via carry license or state law – then why can’t I continue to do so at work?
I often hear people argue that if tighter gun laws and further restrictions on private ownership could save one life, then it would be worth it. Well, let me ask you the same thing. If allowing our responders to carry a firearm could save one life, wouldn’t IT be worth it?