Blog

Firearms on the Fireground

We watched a heated discussion take place on the LeatherheadMafia (LHM) Facebook page a few days ago (See here) regarding recent legislation proposed in Texas that would allow firefighters, EMT’s, and paramedics to conceal carry firearms. See story here.  See legislation proposal here.

Before everyone gets worked up, hear me out. We’ll comb over both sides of the argument.

The fire service is one of the last quasi-government agencies which still holds the public’s trust. Most other government entities are surrounded with skepticism and or stained with operational follies.  What the public knows for sure is when they call us, we’ll show up and do everything we can do help them. Our fathers and grandfathers gave their lives, their lungs, and their blood earning that public trust.screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-9-45-19-am

Let’s look at some statistics
  • NIOSH reports four (4) firefighter LODD’s relating to fatal assault since 1994. You can view and filter the NIOSH LODD map to your liking here.
  • NFPA reported one (1) LODD in 2016 related to Gunshot as well as one in 2015. You can view and filter that information here as you please.

That equates to one percent (1%) of Firefighter deaths per year for the last 2 years due to assault or violence.

The NIOSH and NFPA statistics also show that nearly 60 percent (60%) of firefighters are dying in the line of duty from sudden cardiac arrest and stroke, which indicates a need to conceal carry a treadmill before we’d ever need to conceal carry a firearm.

Liabilities and Legalities.

With all fifty states providing their own spin on firearms permitting, it has created an uneven patchwork of legal issues, almost a jungle really. Every state reserves the right to execute and legislate requirements for firearm ownership. It appears the legislation in Texas would exempt emergency workers from legal liability should they use their firearm to protect themselves. It seems obvious that few municipalities would ever want to engage in fielding the possibility of arming all of their emergency responders, even allowing a 2nd Amendment right while on duty is an incredible thick gray area. This has nothing to do with whether or not firefighters should be able to recieve conceal carry permits, ONLY whether they should be carrying a firearm during the execution of their duties.

img_2313Allowing Firefighters to conceal carry opens an entire legal liability nightmare nobody has yet fully realized. Imagine if an on-duty firefighter, paid by the taxpayers, were to shoot and kill a person after stepping off of a fire truck? That person is not a sworn officer of the law but has responded to an emergency representing the municipality. I’m not a lawyer, nor am I a firehouse lawyer, but the stick couldn’t be long enough for most jurisdictions to even touch that can of worms. In my professional circle of fire officer’s this topic is nearly absurd. Even if the legislation in Texas passes, I would venture to say that most career municipalities would create a gun-free policy.  It appears there is also a distinct contrast between career and volunteer. Volunteer firefighters may be presented with more latitude as they typically respond in their own vehicles.  As a career firefighter, I would be fired the moment I brought my pistol to work.

tumblr_ntl5l8fdhm1uojh5zo1_1280Perspective

Inserting a firearm into a scene where there otherwise might not be one. Escalation of force instead of de-escalation of the incident. As well as the idea that firefighters might feel embolden to intervene in a situation they would normally stage for, putting themselves at further risk. As firefighters, we often rely on our street smarts, and in rare times, our tools and brawn to bring troublesome incidents to a close. We’ve always made an emphasis on scene safety. Approaching when the scene is cleared by law enforcement. It’s been the gold standard and it works more often than not.  When law enforcement is not available, entering the scene is a decision for the incident commander to make sometimes it makes sense other times it doesn’t. Those decisions should not be changed by the fact that you are armed. There are several adverse scenarios that could play out by inserting a firearm into an emergency incident, incidents from accidental discharge to someone attempting to wrestle the firearm away from you.

Public Trust

Just the idea of firefighters being armed dilutes the trust the public will have in us. Our strength comes from our neutrality. We’re responding the public’s crisis’  not to judge, or harm them. Our sole purpose is providing assistance, help, or saving their lives. NOT taking their livesbreaking-news. The guys in my firehouse discussed this topic over the kitchen table and one firefighter said “Carrying guns would just make us cowards.” I found that to be an interesting perspective.

Another item to contemplate is the firearms actual use. We’re all different, what appears to be a threat to one firefighter may not be to another. Many things affect that perception such as our world view and the lens with which we comprehend situations. If half of the 1.3 million firefighters are carrying concealed weapons, they’re all going to be making decisions based on their own experiences. One firefighter might be a body builder and a green belt in Jiu-Jitsu, he may have a less lethal resolution than the guy who makes sure nobody steals the recliners. Within that difference resides whether a person continues to live or dies. Are we willing to respond to an emergency and then put ourselves into a situation where we might take a life because we are scared?

Here are some arguments (comments) from the LHM Facebook discussion FOR the legislation:
  1. “No employer should be allowed to deprive employees of their Constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms.”
  2. “I’d rather have it and not need it then need it and not have it”
  3. “As previously said I think concealed carry is great! If someone is going to shoot at us I’d like to be able to better defend myself and the others around me. It’s not something you’d be able to tell unless the situation arose that it was needed.”
  4. “It’s not about carrying as a form of enforcement. It’s about having the right to protect ourselves as United States citizens. How many times have firefighters and medics been victims of attacks and were defenseless.”
  5. “They are already shooting at firemen. As a cop and fireman, I don’t think being able to carry is a bad thing at the FD. It makes the best sense when you start talking about active shooter scenarios.”
Here are some arguments (comments) from the LHM Facebook discussion AGAINST the legislation:
  1. “There are idiots out there with “I fight what you fear” t-shirts that you wouldn’t want in a fire with you or anyone you know…And we will let those guys carry a firearm. Good Grief”
  2. “We are not cops. We are loved because of what we’ve always done. This will be the BIGGEST mistake in the history of the fire service.”
  3. “Police officers have much more training when dealing with using lethal force. They are also the ones when on scene watching for a threat to happen and can maintain constant awareness and control of their firearm.”
  4. “I’m pro-gun all day and conceal carry every day while not on duty, but there’s not many cases in the Fire/EMS world where a firearm makes the scenarios any better or safer.”
  5. “No, we do not need to be armed, more gear to deal with if we have to go interior, what are we supposed to do with a sidearm?”
Conclusion:damn-firebug

This is one of those defining fire service issues. It’s a decision that alters the posture and the perception of our service to the general public. Over the last decade or more there has been a huge push for safety within the fire service. The initiatives appear to be working as injury rates continue to fall nationwide. I can definitely see both sides of this argument, and they both have merit. It’s a situation where the individual firefighter might FEEL safer carrying a gun, while not physically being safer and in that distinction lies the difference. When you are armed, your decisions will change because you have the perception of being more powerful.  However, it appears that adding firearms to the mix will only complicate matters rather than compliment. Firefighter civil action with wrongful death suits will become common place. Our role on an emergency scene is not changing, but it appears the perception of ourselves is. By arming Firefighters are we putting ourselves first in the pecking order?

What are your thoughts?