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Protecting self brings a new concern to fire service

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Foreword:

A real valid issue is being raised in our fire departments among our front line first responders..carrying concealed weapons.  Depending on where you live, this is a protected right under the current laws. But, this law can create a whirlwind of liability for on-duty or off-duty public servants.  Whether we agree or disagree with CCW, we must be proactive in these discussions and in developing policies to protect our teams, our departments and our citizens.

Taking the Heat

by Steven “Doc” Bernard

 

You  arrive  to  a  reported  structure  fire  and  it  is  fully  involved.    Fire  is  through  the   roof.      The  first  thing  you  do  is  send  all  available  personnel  into  the  fire  on  interior   attack  mode………     No?        Why  not?      Is  there  some  written  guide  or  training  on  how  it  is  to  be  done?      Of   course  there  is.      We  size  up  the  scene.      We  follow  guidelines  our  department  has   adopted.      We  follow  our  training.    That’s  how  we  do  things.     We  have  bookcases  full  of  regulations,  manuals,  operating  guidelines,  policies,  and   operating  procedures.      NFPA  alone  takes  up  a  couple  of  those  shelves.      The  more   complex  or  potentially  injurious  an  item  is,  the  more  manuals  and  information  there   is  on  how  it  is  to  be  used.      But  we  are  used  to  that,  because  they  are  meant  to  help   us  do  a  dangerous  job  with  some  potentially  dangerous  tools.

Lately  though,  it  seems  the  job  has  gotten  even  more  perilous.      This  is  not  due  to the   fire,  but  from  a  section  of  the  public  that  has  been  making  threats  against our departments,  and  in  some  cases  where  units  have  been  struck  by  gunfire.    And   logically,  our  personnel  want  to  be  protected  from  these  assaults.      We  see   departments  issuing  bullet-­‐resistant  vests  and  helmets,  and  some  organizations   have  been  calling  for  or  allowing  their  personnel  to  be  armed  while  on  duty.

But  in  polling  a  number  of  departments  that  I  have  some  connections  with  across   the  country,  I  asked  two  questions  of  them. First,  “Does  your  department  allow  concealed  or  open  carry  of  a  firearm  on-­‐duty  or   on  scene?” And  secondly,  “Does  your  department  have  a  written  policy  about  it?”     What  I  found,  in  my  unscientific  poll,  was  that  if  the  answer  was  “No,  it  is  not   allowed”,  there  was  a  written  policy  in  place.        But,  if  the  answer  was   “Yes…well…only  certain  calls…”  “Only  certain  people  can”,  or  “If  the  Chief  says   okay”,  I  found  that  there  was  usually  no  written  policy  associated  with  it  or  only  a   verbal/assumed  policy,  if  that.     This  article  is  NOT  being  written  to  promote  or  prohibit  our  personnel  from  being   allowed  to  carry.      That  is  for  the  individual  department  to  decide,  in  my  mind.      But   for  there  to  be  an  allowance  to  carry  this  new  potentially  life-­‐threatening  equipment   in  our  workspace,  there  must  be  a  policy  in  place  that  sets  out  how,  where,  and  what   level  of  training  must  be  achieved.      Otherwise,  those  departments  could  very  well   be  setting  themselves  up  for  a  lawsuit  and  sorrow.     Personally,  I  have  my  CCW  permit  and  the  blessing  from  my  state  to  carry  as  a   private  citizen  and  I  want  to  protect  that  right.      But  on  a  fire  department,  whether   career  or  volunteer,  we  are  not  private  citizens  while  we  are  doing  the  job.      We  are   invited  into  people’s  homes,  and  sometimes  we  don’t  even  wait  for  permission  to   enter  private  property.    John  Q.  Public  does  not  have  those  same  privileges.

We   represent  the  department/agency/county/city/township  that  has  hired  us.    We  are   now  held  to  a  higher  and  stricter  standard  than  Joe  Citizen  with  his  carry  permit.     So  I  ask  all  of  you,  what  is  your  department’s  policy  on  the  carry  of  firearms  while  on   a  call  and/or  at  the  firehouse?    If  you  have  them  established,  then  this  question  is   already  answered.      But  if  you  haven’t,  this  article  is  addressed  to  you.    We  are   looking  at  major  liabilities  if  we  do  not  seriously  address  this  within  our   departments.

I  am  not  against  protecting  ourselves,  but  I  am  also  not  ignorant  to   the  fact  that  both  the  department  and  the  individual  could  face  severe  civil  and  legal   penalties  if  there  was  no  policy  regarding  it.     You  see,  now  we  need  talk  about  responsibility  and  liability.

There  are  some  laws   that  might  defend  a  person’s  actions  but  that  does  not  mean  the  departments  are   immune  from  a  case  being  brought  forward  and  need  to  be  defended  to  prevent  it   from  going  further  if  someone  is  shot  by  a  department  employee  while  on  duty/call.     A  case  being  sought  incurs  attorney  fees,  and  if  they  name  the  individual  as  well  as   the  department…and  should  there  be  a  motion  to  sever  the  case…the  individual  may   be  left  holding  the  proverbial  “bag”  if  there  was  no  written  policy  that  the  individual   was  to  follow,  and  if  there  was  any  hint  of  impropriety,  negligence  or  acting  without   authorization.      Or  the  department  could  be  held  liable  for  not  having  regulations  in   place  that  addressed  this  issue  for  that  employee.        And  yes,  a  volunteer,  while   representing  a  department  is  still  an  employee  and  an  agent  of  that  department.     How  many  departments  accept  that  Ricky  Rescue,  new  on  the  department,  can   properly  and  adequately  get  on  the  pump  and  get  us  water…when  his  experience  is   just  playing  with  his  sump  pump  in  the  backyard?  No,  we  put  him  through  Pump Operations  Class  and  we  can  verify  he  can  do  the  job  properly.      We  won’t  even  talk   about  driving  the  rig…     How  about  something  more  lethal  that  we  see  nearly  everyday,  a   defibrillator/monitor?      Will  we  allow  Freddy  the  New  Fireman  run  around  with  the   paddles  without  confirming  he  is  certified  and  trained  how  to  use  them?           The  spreaders?       But  yet  we  are  allowing  our  personnel  to  bring  personal  equipment  on  to  scene  and   to  the  station  that  has  lethal  implications  and  yet  we  have  no  policy  governing  it’s   carry  or  use  while  on  the  job.    We  have  no  record  of  their  training  with  this   equipment,  other  than  a  CCW  permit,  which  is  fairly  easy  to  get  in  many  states,  and   some  states  don’t  require  any  actual  education  or  training  to  carry  a  firearm  legally.

So  I  have  been  becoming  more  and  more  concerned  with  the  calls  to  allow   firefighters  and  EMS  personnel  to  be  allowed  to  carry  while  on  duty,  yet  not  seeing  any  written  guidelines  or  policies  about  it.      Some  departments  just  allow  it  to   happen  and  don’t  think  anything  about  it  and  have  set  no  policy  as  they  are  afraid  of   Constitutional  issues.

We  must  remember  that  we  can  set  standards  for  the  use  of   equipment  when  it  is  used  in  the  line  of  duty.      A  choice  by  the  employee  has  to  be   made:  adhere  to  the  policy,  or  seek  employment  elsewhere  if  they  feel  the  standards   are  too  strict.

We  have  to  protect  our  departments  by  setting  policy  and  standard.       But  not  having  that  policy  to  be  able  to  benchmark  off  of,  is  opening  us  to  high  levels   of  liability.     Firearms  and  their  place  at  the  station  and  on  a  scene  need  to  be  addressed,  and   department  policy  needs  to  be  written  as  to  who  can  carry  and  when  they  can  carry   a  firearm  while  on  duty.

Mind  you,  I  am  on  the  range  at  least  2-­‐3  times  a  month,  have  extensive  firearms   training,  and  a  veteran.      So,  to  even  hint  that  I  am  anti-­‐firearm  or  anti-­‐self   protection  is  a  non-­‐starter.        I  just  want  to  see  any  department  that  does  not  have  a   policy  about  carrying  while  on  duty  to  establish  one.

Whether  it  is  accepting  of  it, or  forbidding of  it, let’s  make  sure  everyone on  our  department  knows  what the policy  is  and  what  the  requirements are should they be allowed.

Steven Bernard is a firefighter, conributing author, writer, video and photo journalist. 

 

 


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