Story by Tim Holman
Chief, German Township Fire & EMS

According to the department of labor, 52 percent of EMTs in the field have been assaulted. This statistic is even more alarming when we see the increase of ambushes on first responders. In recent years we have seen EMTs shot and killed while trying to perform emergency care. These incidents are increasing each year.

Due to media bias toward guns, the idea of arming EMTs for self-defense and protection will receive much scrutiny. But times are changing and civil unrest is increasing. More people are becoming desperate and more people resent figures of authority.

Some argue we should just wait for law enforcement to clear the scene before entering. Unfortunately law enforcement is experiencing staffing issues just like others in public safety. How will waiting 30 or 40 minutes to enter a home to treat a patient stand up in court? Many systems, when dispatched to a drug overdose, rely on law enforcement to clear the scene before entering. This is a wise and proactive approach for keeping our EMTs safe. But suppose you are called to such a scene and the patient is not breathing. You stage your unit away from the scene and wait for your local police. Unfortunately all their units are tied up and the ETA is 20 to 30 minutes. You wait and the patient dies. The family sues you because you made no attempt to determine if the scene was safe. They argue the patient was unresponsive and of no danger to anyone. Do you really think that a jury would rule in the favor of the EMS?

What about routine calls that deteriorate into violent situations? Retreat? And what if you do not have time? Is that just the risk associated with the job? No, that is unacceptable. Our constitution states we have a right to bear arms for personal protection. That right should not end just because you are now at work.

Some may argue there are many EMTs who should not be allowed to carry a gun. The same can be said about some law enforcement officials I know. No one can convince me we cannot train EMTs in tactical skills. We teach them to start IVs, intubate, deliver medications, and many other difficult tasks.

Why can’t we train them to carry a gun for protection? Not to arrest people. Not to be a cop, but to be able to enter a scene and clear it for safety.

In 2009 the FBI estimates that more than 2 million crimes were stopped by law-abiding citizens with concealed handguns. Of these it is estimated that fewer than 100 shots were fired.

Before arming EMTs they must be trained in tactical techniques in clearing a scene, carrying a gun in deep concealment, de-escalating a violent encounter and various other skills. And yes some may not be allowed to carry if they cannot qualify appropriately. At the very least we should consider arming at least on individual on each EMS crew.

There are some negative consequences in arming EMTs. Our image may change. Some people think guns are evil. Public education would be needed to combat this. Some advocate using deep concealment and not publicizing that EMTs are armed. Another drawback may be the liability insurance. Training and qualifying may help reduce this challenge.

By the way, if you are still thinking this is a crazy concept, consider several cities have already passed ordinances to allow EMTs to carry handguns while on duty. Another city in the west has made it policy that no EMS crew leaves the station without someone on the crew being armed. This policy originated after several of their female crews were dispatched on false calls to lure them into homes.

Most people will have very strong feelings about this concept. Talk about it. Think about it. Consider other options. But we must stop the senseless killings of EMTs trying to serve their communities.

About the Author
Tim Holman is a seminar speaker who has conducted programs throughout the United States. Holman speaks and trains on a variety of business, fire and EMS management and leadership issues. Holman specializes in providing fire and EMS officer development programs. Holman was the Fire Chief magazine “Fire Chief of the Year” for 2002.