Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?

armed firefighters

The debate whether or not to arm firefighters and EMS continues.  This week, Georgia legislators are looking to authorize firefighters, statewide, to carry their own firepower while out on calls.

Who can forget the incident last April when a man facing eviction in Gwinnett County, Georgia lured five firefighters into his home by faking a possible heart attack, and, knowing they were not armed, took them all hostage at gunpoint?

Violence toward first responders is not new.  An EMT in Fort Wayne, Ind., was injured after he was struck by bullet fragments when his ambulance was shot 17 times while transporting a stabbing victim.

In 2012, an ambulance that was responding to a call of a shooting in Houston was shot at least four times by an armed suspect.

In March 2011, a Long Island paramedic was responding to a car crash, when suddenly the motorist pulled out a gun and unloaded on first-responders. Police eventually killed the gunman, but medic crews had to hide behind an ambulance to avoid gunfire (an argument for the huge ambuli?).

Add to these the countless unreported instances in which first responders are put into a situation where the scene is not always safe, or becomes unsafe in the blink of an eye. 

Is it fair to ask us to face these potentially fatal scenarios with only our wits?

This is a question that will not be going away very soon.  First responders continue to face mounting risks associated with performing our duties to an increasingly-violent society.

But would arming first responders improve their safety or lead to other, potentially serious issues?

Just this week, some Georgia state legislators cite the Gwinnett County incident is key evidence in support of their proposed Bill 807 to authorize firefighters, statewide, to carry their own firepower while out on calls.

Proponents of such a law point to an era wherein we are increasingly targeted by vicious gangs, anti-government extremists, unpredictable criminals and intoxicated or infuriated people. Counting on law enforcement may leave us vulnerable to injury, and worse. Carrying a concealed weapon could give us the ability to protect ourselves against potentially fatal attacks.

"I think that anybody that has to be in public should be allowed to defend themselves anywhere they go," said Jerry Henry of

"This is a dangerous world. Firefighters are no different…. We have never said that everybody should be armed, we say that everybody should have the right to decide whether they want to be armed, or not.”

Critics say the bill, if passed into law, would cause more problems than it would solve.

"I just think it's overkill," said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. "Of course I'm concerned with (the firefighters') safety. If there's a pattern of situations where firefighters are at risk, then yes. But I don't think we're at that point, now…. When people see firefighters, they're almost always glad to see them coming, because a firefighter means help. Arming firefighters will provide a distraction to their core functions, protecting people and serving the public."

Interestingly in Gwinnett County, where the firefighters were taken hostage last year, Fire Chief Casey Snyder stated in an email Thursday that he has no plans to allow his firefighters to arm themselves while they're on duty, even if the legislature passes this bill. 

"The Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services has no knowledge of the content of House Bill 807 nor did we participate in the writing of the bill. Regardless of the outcome, the department has no plans to change its current procedures. Anyone seeking information should contact the individuals or agencies responsible for the development of the bill."

Those opposed to the concept of arming first responders are quick to remind us that police officers are specifically trained to try to bring suspects and attackers under control by using less-lethal force, and they only withdraw their guns as a last resort. Unless armed first responders go through the same training as police officers, we will have only concealed firearms at our disposal for protection, which could result in deadly mistakes, and of course, increased liability for our employers.

And doesn’t it always come down to money? Whether the argument is who pays to arm us, or who pays the lawsuit settlements, or politicians courting contributions from the NRA, let’s never forget it’s always about the money.

How do you feel? Is it time we should start packing heat next to our halligan?  A Glock next to our gloves?


  • Ken Nelson says:

    I believe individuals with police/weapons training should carry fire arms. In our station’s situation, our assistant chief is also a sheriff’s deputy. I have suggested that he have his firearm with him in a lockbox on the truck in case a need arises. In addition some personnel are current military (Reserve, National Guard) who could also serve as back up. As for me I would not carry but I don’t see why my brothers shouldn’t have it available as a tool if needed. After all the police do show up on scene with us to do more than just direct traffic.

  • bhill says:

    “lockbox on the truck”
    Does he carry his weapon in a lock box while on duty as a Deputy? I’m thinkin’ not. Am I willing to use deadly force, and then turn around and try to save their life after I shoot them? Ain’t happening.
    “individuals with police/weapons training” – the training teaches shoot to kill, not to wound and hope they just give up. It also teaches one that there are other options available before the last option which is to shoot.
    If you haven’t figured out, I’m fine with carrying. But it comes with a price. That price is a life. If I draw my weapon… someone will die. Either me, or the turd I’m shooting at. I have been in active shooting situations, and have the scar to prove it. As an AC on my department, I get worried when some of my guys are using a nozzle. I’m not so sure I would want them anywhere near an airsoft gun, much less the real deal.

  • Rob says:

    I was a volunteer for almost twenty years. When our members were police officers, they could carry on duty, concealed. I remember one night when I was the operator (driver) and responding to a house fire, three of the four firefighters on the truck were PD. I was handed three sidearms to take care of!
    As far as allowing everyone be armed…That is really a tricky situation. It may just make the people who are truly paranoid about the cops become paranoid with fire/rescue. and treat them as such. On the other hand, they have the right to defend themselves. I know first hand PD cannot respond with every unit, nor get there before or even with them at the same time most of the time when PD is warranted by the nature of the call. Just last week my old station had to listen to a housefire being toned with entrapment while they were staged, waiting on PD for an assault. The scene wasnt secure. A young mother and two very young children perished.

    All I can say is each individual department should consider all the implications very, very carefully. True, it could save a life. It could also start a war.

    FYI- I am 100 percent pro gun. But experience in the situations fire/rescue gets into tends to change things a little.

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