Station Pride Articles

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?

About Jon Marr (27 Articles)
Jon Marr is a 18-year fire service veteran originally from the Rhode Island area. Jon is a Station Captain with the U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll in support of the Space and Missile Defense Command. Prior to Kwajalein, Jon spent 8 years as a Fire Captain for the Area Support Group Kuwait Fire & Emergency Services Department supporting the U.S. Army Central Command in Kuwait. He was also a Fire Lieutenant at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Southern Baghdad, as well as 3 years working for AMR Seattle. Jon is a certified Fire Officer III, Fire Instructor II, Haz-Mat Tech/IC, holds a Bachelors degree in Fire Administration from Waldorf College and has been an EMT for 17 years. He is currently a Graduate Student at Central Connecticut State University studying Marriage & Family Therapy. Jon enjoys scuba diving, traveling, and watching his 7-year-old son see the world in wonder. Jon is a firm believer in maintaining a healthy balance of pride, tradition, and safety within the fire service.

9 Comments on Firearms on the Fireground

  1. Check some of your numbers regarding LODD from firearms… 4 West Webster Firefighters were ambushed at a fire on Christmas eve in 2012 2 did not survive and the other 2 were pinned down by incoming hostile fire

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  2. To clarify some of your misinformation on the Texas law: the legislation is compulsory. This means the municipality must allow a member to carry if they meet all legal requirements. The proposed legislation also contains a hold harmless clause for the municipality and places the liability on the shooter. the proposed legislation also has a requirement for descalation training as well as CQB techniques at the carrier’s cost not the municipality. Your assumptions about the loss of public trust is an opinion and one I respect but also disagree with. In Houston we are facing more and more violence and lost time for assault. We have multiple instances of shots fired at firefighters. PD is increasingly delayed on their response to assist calls leaving our people in a very bad position. I respect your perspective but disagree with your opinions. In Texas we have agencies that employ Public Service Officers who are PD, FDz and Paramedic all in one. They respond to the emergencies as they arrive and switch roles instantly. They do not experience the retisense you fortell. In Houston we use SWAT paramedics – Fd trained to provide medical attention under fire during the event. We still don’t have issues with a lack of public trust. In fact HDD has a 98% approval rating among the citizens. I understand the hesitation but respectfully disagree. As an officer here I wouldn’t have an issue with anyone carrying on duty with the proper training. Maybe that won’t work for every community but it does here. I appreciate your time and hope the information about the legislation helps clear some of your concerns.

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    • Stephen Watson // March 26, 2017 at 11:47 am // Reply

      House bill 982 not 56 requires additional training unless I have missed a recent amendment that has been offered. Please provide a link to the text where this can be confirmed?

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  3. I work in a terrible neighborhood and I would never, ever consider carrying a firearm while on duty; and I am saying this having been in situations where I have been looking at the wrong end of a firearm. There are serious risks that come with this job, some of which we are expected to be self-sufficient in mitigating, others we are not because our role in society is to avoid them. Personally I’d stay far, far away from any FF who wants to concealed/open carry on duty, and I’d probably call the local air medical provider at the start of shift to let them know we’ll be sending them plenty of work over the next 24 hours since FF Trigger Happy decided he needs to be able to ‘protect himself.’

    If you want to be a cop, then go be a cop; if you want to be both then please stay away from my station.

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  4. A few years ago I would’ve said firefighters do not need guns. Today, I feel that at least one person (the driver) on an engine should carry. I have been used as cover by cops, seen riot mobs move to stop us from doing our jobs with violence and slashing supply lines and throwing bricks at us after the cops were ordered back. Now the cops expect us to make entry with them into a “warm zone” in active shooter incidents and tell us “they may hand us their small arm if they can.” This article doesn’t have the close calls in the numbers… The times where all we could do is find cover and HOPE the bad guy goes the other way.

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  5. Joseph Lyons // February 18, 2017 at 7:03 am // Reply

    To start off I am not against the ability to carry while on duty but I do not think having that ability can be allowed without proper training and possibly even more screening.
    There is currently proposed legislation to allow fire investigators in Indiana to have arrest powers which would also give the legal ability in Indiana to carry while on duty. I don’t see this legislation getting any traction so it has a VERY slim chance at passing. The Indiana Association of Fire Chiefs are not taking a position to oppose or promote the legislation.
    I have heard the argument multiple times doubting the firefighters mental capacity to be trusted with a firearm. I have also thought of this but I would like people to think about this a minute. In central Indiana most professional fire and police departments use the same company and doctors for physical and mental screening of new hires witch are then approved by the same state pension board. So why would there be any difference in mental capacity if we have all been passed by the same doctors and pension board?
    In my opinion, it all comes down to proper training. I totally get the trust issues it may create with the public. Our predecessors have worked very hard to create that trust with the public. The fire service needs to accept that society is always changing. The fire service has historically resisted change but we need to begin to adapt to those changes.
    Paul Combs has a piece i think called know your enemy which makes a similar point, why are we training for things from the past when it doesn’t apply to the incidents that we experience today?

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  6. Joseph Lyons // February 18, 2017 at 7:04 am // Reply

    Typo in the first line, can “not” be allowed.

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