First Arriving Network
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Violence Against Firefighters – Think About It

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Violence Against Firefighters

Glenn A. Gaines
Deputy U. S. Fire Administrator
Fire Chief (ret.) Fairfax County, Va

When I became interested in becoming a firefighter, I recall my mother saying, "Well I know it is dangerous, but at least you don’t have to worry about being shot. The families of police officers have that to worry about."  In recent times violence against firefighters and EMS personnel has increased to a point where, as leaders, we cannot continue to ignore it.

I recently read over the law enforcement fatality report for 2011 and 2012. As in the past, transportation related deaths are one of the leading the causes. In 2012 the top two line of duty deaths were very close. Fifty (50) officers died from traffic related incidents, forty-nine (49) were killed in the line of duty by gunfire. In 2011, sixty-eight (68) law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty by gunfire and sixty-four (64) killed in transportation related incidents. Approximately 100,000 police were injured due to violence in 2000.

According to a Rand Institute study completed in 2004, approximately 88,000 firefighters are injured due to violence against them each year; about 2,000 of their injuries are potentially life-threatening. The Boston Herald reported in 2005 that over 700,000 assaults occurred against paramedics (I assume they also included EMTs). And finally the Bureau of Labor reports that public sector employees are four (4) times more likely to experience assaults than private sector employees.

ABC News

Although these statistics are focused on police, fire and EMS personnel, I believe something has changed in our American society. Acting out toward others seems to be occurring more often and to some degree is viewed as OK. It has caused me to contemplate if this is the case, then why? I have thought about road rage, spousal abuse, workplace violence, armed attacks against all sorts of innocent people. Some of the social experts are saying the current inter-personal conflicts which mushroom into rage, physical confrontation and gun violence is a consequence of a lack of frequent interaction with others. Experts say we typically begin the day in our home, get into our temperature controlled vehicle, drive to work, enter our cubicle/office, open up the computer work, spend a few moments at lunch (maybe in the company of others), get back into our temperature controlled vehicle, back home and watch TV, play video games or jump on Facebook or Twitter, then off to bed. Back in the day, folks sat out on porches and visited with neighbors and children routinely played outside with the neighbor’s children. No expensive video games, no social media they pretended (better known as visualize or being creative).

Although this scenario is not the only contributor, I believe it is a primary one. What seems to be occurring to firefighters and EMS personnel is just the nature in interpersonal dynamics of the greater society today.

So what to do? These are complicated matters and demand a response that is something more than a one size fits all solution. My thoughts on potential solutions follow and are not necessarily in order:

· Take a serious look at what has occurred and benchmark with your community. Could it happen here? How did the first in resources deploy? What impact did they have, both positive and negative? What are the potentials for this to occur in my backyard and how do our available resources match with those of the agencies involved with the incidents identified?

· Rethink new employee/member training courses to include increased awareness of potential conditions where violence may occur. Include reviews of past incidents and the reports that salient points captured in the hot washes/critiques. Training may include incident risk assessment (what are the types of incidents and areas in our community where these incidents have a high degree of potential for occurring?). Other subjects such as hostage self-survival strategies and how to "size up" an incident scene as you arrive. Where are my escape routes and hard cover should something bad happen?

· Work with local law enforcement to draft operational orders and guidelines aligned with law enforcement operations and tactical plans.

· Hold retraining or refresher courses (short duration) annually involving all field operations personnel. This would be an excellent time to undertake a literature study of incidents occurring since the last retraining/refresher occurred and to review operations with local law enforcement.

· Train and implement with NIMS/ICS on both routine incidents where multiple tasks are commenced simultaneously. Essentially establish command and delegate out tasks.

· Hold an annual inter-agency violence exercise bringing all agencies and city hall leaders and staff to engage. These exercises could include hazardous materials, fire or other more common occurrences that may spark interest of participants. It may be difficult to get the key players there, but, if you make it a big press event and feed them, the political leadership and other agency heads more than likely will attend.

Clearly there are additional answers and proactive steps that can be taken, however, the steps listed here are a great start. One final step should be included. Get to know the agency personnel who will respond to these incidents or maybe impacted by acts of violence. Reach out to city hall, the Chamber of Commerce, the school superintendent, public works/division of highways and of course to all branches of law enforcement. This means of course we have to get out of our routine of segregating ourselves from others who face the same challenges we do. I am not saying it is easy. But if we do it enough, it becomes a whole lot easier.

The views expressed in this article are mine and do not represent those of the U. S. Fire Administration, FEMA, DHS or the Administration. …. Glenn A. Gaines


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