Safe Response to Incidents of Violence

Violence can and does occur in urban, suburban and rural settings, and responders are increasingly being drawn into these types of events.

Across the United States, acts of violence towards firefighters and medics continue to grab headlines. Regardless of where you work, you will likely face the challenge of responding to a critical incident that may include an act of violence towards responders at some point in your career. Violence can and does occur in urban, suburban and rural settings and these can include shootings, stabbings, domestic violence, and large crowds mixed with alcohol and assaults.

Increasingly Fire and EMS responders are finding themselves drawn into these types of events.

Please remember to follow local guidelines and procedures. This article is for informational and educational purposes only. For some responders this may already be a daily occurrence. For others, it may be a less frequent occurrence but nonetheless one you must be prepared for. Some recent events that have occurred:

  • A paramedic with Madison County Emergency Medical Services in North Carolina was shot in the chest by a patient on Sunday night, July 30 2006.
  • This past July, 22-year-old Maplewood Firefighter Ryan Hummert was fatally shot by a man holed up in a burning home.
  • In September, D.C. Firefighter Hakim Carroll was shot in the arm as he and other firefighters forced entry into an apartment.
  • Just last month, firefighters in Independence, Ky. were shot at when they arrived at a burning home where they found three family members dead.
  • A sniper shot at firefighters and MAST (Metropolitan Ambulance Service Trust) EMS personnel in Kansas City, MO, while they were responding to a house fire. In that incident, a paramedic from MAST was shot and had to be rescued by firefighters in the midst of gunfire.
  • In 2005, paramedics in Edmonton, Canada, were provided with bullet-proof vests to increase on-the-job safety.
  • In Scotland, CCTV cameras have been installed on some fire engines in a bid to stop an epidemic of violence against firefighters and rescue crews.
  • February 13, 2004, a female career Lieutenant was shot while attempting to provide emergency care to a civilian shooting casualty. The victim died from her wounds before rescue personnel could reach her.


It is always important to gain as much pre-arrival information as possible and to listen for key verbal indicators that may come across, such as the fact that this is a high violence area, you have been to a location before (bar or club), reports of shooting, alcohol involved, crowds, etc.

Upon arrival at any critical incident it is important to conduct a quick "windshield survey" even when a scene is said to be "secure." Typical procedures require that law enforcement is dispatched to any type of incident that has the potential for violence, but you may find yourself on the scene due to a wrong address, victims coming to you, or by discovering an incident suddenly.

Any type of violent incident (stabbings, civil unrest, shootings, etc.) should raise a RED FLAG for responders to be more aware of what is occurring prior to and during the response. When responding, get all the dispatch information you can. Look at the routes into the event. Survey the scene for a moment. Keep an escape route to get out of the scene quickly. Look at the area where you are parking and staging. Never hesitate to call for law enforcement assistance if you THINK you may need it.

Ballistic Protection

This is a topic of increasing debate among the Fire & EMS community. Old "hand me downs" of body armor from military and law enforcement agencies may not always be the best choice, as the armor may be severely damaged/worn out and this practice could open your agency up to legal action in the event of a problem.

Some jurisdictions provide no armor, some provide all staff armor and others provide armor to only those Fire/EMS units that routinely respond to a large number of shootings, stabbings and other types of critical incidents. On the other hand, the cost of body armor is very restrictive with armor typically starting around $500-$800 per unit and higher. If your agency is looking into purchasing armor it is important to do careful research into the topic, as there are numerous types and levels of body armor.

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