Recent threats against law enforcement across the country haven’t been limited to police, but include fire and EMS personnel. Postings on social media have advocated readers to “attack everything in blue except the mailman.” One post encouraged people to kill firefighters because “they’re on the same side.”
Here are some tactics that may enhance your safety while on and off duty:
- Maintain a mindset that you won’t be a victim; you’ll go home at the end of your shift.
- Monitor social media and local news for protests and planned events that will allow personnel to avoid potential problem areas.
- Consider not wearing apparel with department markings when not on duty. Bring clothing items to the station and change there.
- Secure stations; don’t leave doors unlocked or bay doors open.
- Lock all unattended vehicles; if there is evidence of tampering, call law enforcement before touching the unit.
- Some attacks have employed a swatting technique, where a false emergency is reported in an attempt to lure first responders into an area. Pay attention to call types; if suspicious, have law enforcement dispatched.
- Shut down lights and siren a block or more before arriving to an incident scene. This allows the opportunity to assess the situation without changing the surroundings. People in the area won’t know you’re there.
- Operate in teams of at least two personnel while on an incident scene. No one should operate alone and be out of sight of others.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times; keep your head on a swivel. If uncomfortable, call law enforcement. Medical personnel can call for additional assistance. Two fire/EMS personnel can remain outside to ensure security of response vehicles. Two personnel can help inside with the incident.
- Always watch a person’s hands; a person can’t kill with their eyes. Hands carry knives and guns.
- Plan an escape route both indoors and outside.
- Watch patients and family members. Be aware of their demeanor. Are their actions and attitude consistent with the situation? Move patients to the controlled environment of the medic unit as quickly as possible.
- Stick to main roads when transporting patients to or returning from the hospital. Avoid taking short cuts through dimly lit neighborhoods.
- Consider alternate treatment facilities if a transport route takes you through a protest area.
- If caught in the middle of a protest, attempt to turn around or back out of the area and seek an alternate route. Units finding themselves surrounded should lock doors and notify their communications center of the situation. If protesters are peaceful, don’t incite. If protestors have turned violent, personnel should activate emergency equipment, making as much noise as possible. This will provide law enforcement a location to track.
- Should you hear gunfire, notify the communications center and leave the area as quickly and safely as possible.
- The motor block and wheels of response vehicles provide excellent cover.
- Keep an eye on law enforcement officers in your area. If you see them on a traffic stop or at an incident scene, check their welfare as you pass by, ensuring the officer is safe and not in need of help. Try not to distract them from their focus. They, in turn, will look out for you.
Finally, most calls for service are from well-meaning citizens with an emergency. Being professional, courteous, and using common sense is the best ways to ensure your safety.
Dennis R. Krebs is a retired captain with the Baltimore County Fire Department and author of the seminar and book titled When Violence Erupts, A Survival Guide for Emergency Responders. Michael Connors is a federal law-enforcement agent.