No longer do fire fighters and paramedics just have to be concerned with the inherent dangers of fighting fires, mitigating hazardous materials incidents, and exposures encountered during EMS responses. Now more than ever, being assaulted while serving others is a real threat.Fire fighters and Paramedics are being assaulted by the very people who called for their assistance. These people may include the victims they treat, associated family members, and in some cases bystanders.Recent incidents, like Gwinnet County, GA and Webster, NY indicate that fire fighters are being targeted for various twisted reasons.

“We are now seeing people use fire fighters more and more as a way to bring attention to their troubles,” says Pat Morrison, IAFF Assistant General President for Health, Safety and Medicine. Fire fighters are trained to call police if they sense a potentially violent situation, but some members have argued that these attacks are so sudden and often times there is little to no warning that it is almost impossible to call for help before the violent act takes place.

The National Fire Academy estimates that there are 700,000 assaults on paramedics and EMTs annually.

It is unusual for fire fighters to find themselves in situations like the incident in Gwinnett County, GA. However, today, fire fighters and EMTS are viewed as an extension of the government and from a position of authority – meaning they are more open to attacks.

More training is needed to make sure fire fighters can react appropriately or escape from threatening situations. It is imperative that fire fighters communicate and train with police officers on how to handle these violent incidents. Law enforcement officials said that the fire fighters had calm and collected demeanors that help to calm the gunman in Gwinnet County, GA where a man faked a heart attack to lure fire fighters to his home and took them hostage. Their actions helped them escape what could have been a deadly situation.

Individual fire departments decide what training is appropriate for their members. Too often due to tight budgets or what the department considers higher priorities departments fail to provide the training necessary to prepare responders for violent incidents.

In addition to these types of incidents, fire fighters and paramedics must work with their local law enforcement agencies to develop protocols and training necessary to jointly respond to active shooter incidents or acts of terrorism (foreign or domestic). While the investigation continues in Boston, one thing has become very clear. IAFF members were standing by on the scene when the explosions took place and many more responded in the aftermath to provide care and solace for the wounded. Seconds count in situations like these and first responders are expected to get to the wounded while the police perimeters are being established. High level training, both initial and ongoing, is essential to make sure first responders aren’t hurt, but are still providing the necessary care to make sure others live.

The IAFF will feature a special session on Responding to Incidents of Violence at the John P. Redmond Symposium/Dominick F. Barbera EMS Conference August 21-24 in Denver, Colorado. This session will feature fire and police officials who have handled these types of incidents and used the lessons learned to provide a model you can use to develop your own policies, procedures and training protocols for responding to acts of violence. But don’t wait, start working now with your department and local law enforcement agency to establish a relationship of trust and joint direction moving forward. Lives will depend on it.