In some of the most dangerous conditions, medics responding to SWAT calls are tasked with saving lives.
A new Florida law that goes into effect today will give paramedics and physicians responding to active gunman incidents, hostage situations, narcotics raids and other situations deemed as high-risk the ability to carry more than medical supplies.
They will also be allowed to carry firearms.
But don't expect to see paramedics responding to routine medical calls or car crashes with a firearm on their side. Local fire rescue officials stress that the new law applies only to medics serving in special-response situations, and they emphasize that medics will not be armed in their day-to-day duties.
"Our policy is very clear, " said Chris Kammel, the EMS bureau chief of rescue for Martin County Fire Rescue. "You will not see any Martin County Fire Rescue employees getting out of an ambulance or a fire engine with a firearm on their side."
Some local fire-rescue agencies already employ medics who are authorized to carry firearms by way of being sworn law-enforcement officers, and say the new law will not change how they respond to calls.
Florida House Bill 487, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 7, states that while accompanying either a police SWAT or special-response unit, tactical medical professionals may carry firearms in the same manner as a law-enforcement officer and have no duty to retreat when defending themselves or others from harm.
The law defines a tactical medical professional as a paramedic, physician or osteopathic physician who has been appointed to provide support to a tactical law-enforcement unit. It requires that those serving as tactical medical professionals be lawfully able to possess firearms, and that they complete firearms safety and tactical training with a law-enforcement agency.
In presenting a related bill to the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee in February, State Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, referenced recent mass shootings in the state while discussing the need for tactical medics to be armed.
"This bill comes from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a bank in Sebring, the Fort Lauderdale airport, where mass tragedies have occurred and those medics are usually standing right behind the officer that they are assigned to and they are there with every drug that could keep you alive, if they survive without having anything to defend themselves with," Hooper said.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue employs a team of SWAT medics who are also sworn deputies and work under the direction of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office during a SWAT deployment, said Tara Cardoso, a fire-safety specialist for the department.
The medics already were authorized to carry weapons while serving in their SWAT roles, she said. The medics are not armed when working under the direction of fire rescue.
Cardoso said she could not discuss how many SWAT medics are employed by the agency, or how frequently they respond to SWAT calls because of security reasons.
Delray Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Kevin Saxton said the department has SWAT medics who have police-academy training and are auxiliary police officers. Similar to the county's arrangement, the Delray Beach medics operate under the direction of the police department when they are deployed to a SWAT call.
Kammel said Martin County is creating a SWAT medic program. However, the overall consensus among department officials is they would not support having medics armed on a day-to-day basis, he said. "The overall view is we're Fire Rescue," Kammel said. "We have nothing to do with law enforcement. We treat people. We help make the day better versus being armed. That's why the cops are there. We have plenty of officers here and sheriff's officers and they do a great job, and they're the ones that are trained for that."