Responding to Acts of Violence: Q&A

Fort Jackson (SC) Fire Department Lieutenant Steven Hamilton recently presented “Responding to and Preparing for Acts of Violence,” a Webcast dealing with emergency scenes that contain violence. Below are some questions from viewers with Steve’s answers.

Q. What do you think of having guns on fire engines?

A. Having guns on apparatus is not the best option. The public will now be aware that firefighters have access to firearms, thus making us targets, just as law enforcement is. The best option is to avoid situations that will cause us to be exposed to aggressors without police protection.

Q. An ambulance crew pulls a car and find a man slumped over a wheel. It is dark out. What should the crew do when they get out to check him out? The person then jumps out and shoots the driver and attendant. What should you do?

A. You should approach vehicles with caution. Never approach an unknown vehicle from the front. Always from the rear. Treat it like a house and approach from an angle. Do not walk in front of your apparatus headlights. This will cast a shadow and reveal your position. Any time gun play presents itself you need to retreat. If the ambulance personnel get shot then you need to seek cover and retreat as soon as possible.

Q. What about the violence for own survival in poor countries?

A. Poor countries or poor areas for that matter can be complicated. I suggest launching public relations campaigns where fire and EMS provide public assistance such as food and clothing drives, helping the community with construction issues, carnivals, public fire education programs, and the like. The community needs to view the fire department as good guys. This may help in the future on response where the scene is possibly violent.

Q. It seems as though communications was the real issue, not a department policy. At what point will National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) policy allow discretion and common sense to prevail?

A. Discretion and policy are rarely synonymous. Discretion exists in guidelines. NFPA allows for discretion when they use words such as “may.” When NFPA uses words like “shall,” then it is a policy. With that said, NFPA requires that departments have a policy. They do not necessarily dictate what the contents of the policy shall be in great detail. Each department must look at their organization and brother and sister agencies to determine what the policy will state.

Q. How does Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) help or hurt emergency responders respond to scenes of violence?

A. EMD can be a priceless resource for these types of incidents. While fire and EMS may be staging, EMD dispatchers can provide medical care instructions to 911 callers that could save a life until law enforcement can secure the scene for fire and EMS entry. See my article in this September issue of Fire Engineering. I talk extensively on using EMD dispatchers during active shooter incidents.

STEVEN C. HAMILTON, a career lieutenant with the Fort Jackson Fire Department in Columbia, South Carolina, is a 17-year veteran of the fire service and a certified EMT-B, fire instructor II, and fire officer III. He is also a reserve deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.


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