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 GeorgiaCarrry.org.
"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?