Armed Firefighters – The Debate Continues… Again

Today’s Burning Question: In our city we have the luxury of a police force nearby, however, just like us they are increasingly busy. Many times we wait a significant amount of time for an officer to arrive on a scene that may or may not be violent but the potential is there, so we stage. Also while I have never been shot at I have had many patients who turned violent after our arrival. That being said, I would not be comfortable with just any or all of our FF/EMTs carrying a weapon. Perhaps the answer is a few well trained supervisors that are armed and can be there to have the backs of their crews, allowing them to focus on patient care without the worry of a weapon being taken from them while providing care.

Another thought I haven’t seen much comment on is the possibility of non-leathal weapons (tasers). What do think?

Answer: We have discussed this issue numerous times over the years – and recent events have not changed my approach one bit.  I am not opposed to arming personnel but like any high risk activity we engage in – if we are going to do it, we have to do it right. The cost of doing it right may make it prohibitive for most departments but that should not be used as an excuse to do it wrong… half-assed… or recklessly.

Your suggestion about arming a few well trained supervisors may be a viable option in some jurisdictions. In a similar vein a number of state USAR teams deploy with their own force protection unit – complete with AR-15s and I think that is a terrific idea (having been the beneficiary of force protection from Georgia’s GA TF01 (GSAR) and Nashville’s TN TF02 during our deployment to Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina).

The challenge with armed supervisors – will they be there when you need them?

As for non-lethal weapons… I do not believe we should be discussing arming anyone without considering the entire force continuum that includes non-lethal weapons. Allowing folks to be armed without giving them a non-lethal option (equipment and training) is as good as telling them how you expect them to handle a dangerous situation. Even a lousy lawyer can make that case a slam dunk in the event a firefighter/medic were to use a firearm against someone.

For more on our previous discussions click here…  and here.

FYI – this question was posted on January 3, 2013 on one of the old threads from 2011 and it is of such import that it is worth reposting here!!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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