Guns are a bad idea for EMS

The gun-carrying for EMS debate is getting stronger down here. It hasn’t totally died down, but for some reason it is becoming more and more of an issue.

I really think that EMS carrying guns is a bad idea. For several reasons.

People call us for help. They don’t call us to protect them, but to help them. Carrying guns on our persons will change the relationship between the public and EMS. I want patients and caregivers to trust that I am there to take care of them, and not there looking for a reason to punish them.

Guns will change the perception that the public will have of us, even if that gun is concealed.

What are we really doing to ensure our safety on scene? How often do we walk straight to the door of a house without even a cursory glance at windows, shrubs, cars, or any other part of a house? Do we walk straight across a broad lawn, or are we in the habit of walking down a driveway? How often do we make our way to a house with our hands full? Is it not a good idea to keep a hand free, in case something bad goes down? Do we allow people inside homes to get between us and the door? Do we even notice when people get between us and the door? Do we look for other methods of egress when we walk into a house? Do we really perform an assessment on our patients, touching their body, looking for something wrong with the patient, and something on the patient that shouldn’t be? How often do we practice contact and cover?

Does every provider in EMS even ask one of those questions? Ever? Or are we complacent?

Slimm and I have safety plans, and we have discussed these things. We have two wives and 6 children between us, and we are going home at the end of the day. We have a safe word, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to get both of us out of any situation. That is also a benefit of working together for a few years now.

We trust ourselves, yet we still don’t trust each other with guns. We know that if something bad went down, and a gun was involved, the chances of neither one of us going home at the end of the shift is much higher.

We are both comfortable with guns. I carry, both concealed and open, virtually all the time when I am off duty. I own several firearms, and I train with them. I am a good shot, and safe. I can, and have, shoot well enough to qualify with my handgun at a police qualification. But this isn’t about my resume’.

I want you to think about this: Imagine every person you’ve ever worked with in EMS. Every person at your service, or your department, or in your hospital, or whatever. Even that guy with the short temper and the bad attitude. We all know and work with a jerk with a bad attitude. Take out a piece of paper, and write down the names of the 5 coworkers who are most likely to create a violent incident.

Now, do you trust your life to that coworker? Do you trust that coworker to change his ways, minimize emotions, and react rationally to a scene? You’ve never met me, do you trust me with a gun on your scene?

Or do you just want to be a badass and carry a gun on your ankle?

Comments

  1. Well said. You echo most of my views on EMS carrying guns.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea, but my stance on it is from a purely philosophical standpoint: I will oppose no man’s decision to carry a gun to defend himself, when and where it is legal to do so.

    I’m not going to go out and lobby for it, but neither will I actively oppose it. And if it so happens that I or my partner can legally carry a firearm, WITH the blessing of our employer, then we’ll work out the details when the time comes.

    My only issue is your statement that you and your partner trust each other with guns. If you know him, trust him to watch your back on scenes, drive you to the hodpital safely, and treat patients correctly, then a gun adds little more to the equation. It’s not as if a person who can be trusted to do all those other things can’t learn to carry and use a weapon safely.

    And honestly, if you’re both responsible adults and take steps to avoid dangerous situations like you should anyway, gun or no gun, if you ever encounter a situation where you’d feel the need to USE a gun, one or both of you is likely not going home anyway.

    That is especially true if you are unarmed, and less so if you are.

    • Joe Frazzini says:

      do you guys hug trees and whistle with the birds too? Wake up, the world has changed and there isnt a damn thing we can do about it. Yes, no one EVER gets between my crew and the door, I always look for a second egress, I always have one hand free, I ALWAYS look for conceiled weapons when I do my primary assesment for injuries, and no matter if the scene looks safe in the bushes, trees etc, ever heard of the word Sniper? Ask the guys from Webster NY, not saying every EMS provider should be armed, but maybe it’s time to arm someone and due to your non belief, a lot of people already look at us as a threat because we have lights, sirens, radios and uniforms, with badges I might add, I know a few people in my career that have been shot at on there way to the station all because they had blue lights running, most police depts across the nation run blue and thats what they see and I would make it a safe bet that if I encountered a situation where I would feel the need to use a weapon on a call, my crew and myself will be the ones going home. Uncle Sam wasnt shut down when he trained me. Training ,training training for what ever the need should be. That includes personal protection.

      • Yep, I’m a tree-hugging, patchouli-wearing pinko commie hippie who hates guns, Joe.

        Just ask anybody, they’ll tell you.

      • 1) Ambulances shouldn’t have blue lights. Period. And cops shouldn’t have red lights. Period.

        2) Just how is being armed going to afford you protection from a sniper in a tree?

        3) The rest of your comment illustrates perfectly why EMS shouldn’t be armed. Kelly is at least rational.

        • CCC –

          1) I have both red & blue lights. So do our fire & EMS vehicles. Just saying.

          2) It won’t. Ever. Neither will carrying a firearm. If a bad guy wants to kill you, they will find a way.

          3) And this Ambulance Driver guy seems very switched on. Excellent response to you sir.

          4) Of course, I am just a dumb ole’ street cop. What could I possibly know?

          5) The last answer is sarcasm…And I do enjoy the blog sir.

          • Mr. Copper;

            1) Seriously, we should pick one for each service. We shouldn’t have both on each vehicle. Red = Fire/EMS and Blue = Law Enforcement. But that’s just my opinion.

            2) But, but… you’re right. But also rational, which a large segment of our population isn’t. Call an EMT an ‘ambulance driver’ and watch what happens.

            3) Careful, he wears skirts. I mean ‘kilts.”

            4) Silly cops.

            5) Thanks for reading and enjoying. :)

    • Kelly;

      I do trust him, and I think he trusts me as well. I don’t have as much of an issue with him carrying at work, as much as I do everyone else where I work. I work with a ton of nitwits, as I’m sure you do.

      We don’t coordinate call-outs with each other. Yet.

      • I have never met an EMT who carried a weapon on duty that I could trust.

        But that’s just selection bias, because the only reason I knew they were carrying is because they told me, and proudly showed off their weapon. If I just met you, and five minutes after you discover we both belong to the tribe of gun nuts, you’re proudly showing off your heater that you are explicitly forbidden to carry on-duty by law and your employer’s policy… well, you are a clown who can’t be entrusted to carry a weapon, period. The only stranger that should ever see your weapon is the guy trying to take your life.

        It’s reasonable to presume there were others, perhaps many others, who were carrying and I never knew it. I don’t have an issue with those people. They’re among the safest people in society.

  2. A police officer’s primary responsibility is law enforcement; to serve and protect. Identifying and managing potential threats is what they do. Let’s let them do what they do. An armed bystander with a concealed-carry permit is oftentimes NOT the person who is primarily responsible for providing medical care. Let them continue to carry, in the event that that is what their conscience guides them to do.

    Here’s the thing for me: MY primary responsibility IS to provide medical care. I am oftentimes too busy, my hands are too full, and I am oftentimes concentrating too hard on the task at hand to be able to use a weapon effectively. Moreover, and far more frightening, is that it would be VERY easy, while either I or my partner were carrying a patient out of home, doing CPR, or any of the other multitude of EMS tasks that we regularly perform, for someone to come behind us and take a weapon out of a holster and then use it against us, against someone else, or against our patient.

    THESE are the thoughts that keep me up at night. Not only that I could somehow find myself in a situation where someone on scene could do us harm, but that I could, even unknowingly, make the situation worse by having been the one that introduced the weapon into the situation in the first place.

    Any medic who claims that they always have at least one hand free is a LIAR. Yes, Joe Frazzini, I said it. How do you write on your clipboard one-handed? Carry a lot of stretchers and take a lot of blood pressures with just one hand, do you? One-handed CPR and one-handed intubation, absolutely! Your dominant hand must be the thickness of a tree trunk with all of the one-handed feats of strength you’re performing, and you must also be ambidextrous, because you can perform said feats of one-handed strength and still have enough skill to draw, aim, and fire a concealed weapon accurately with your non-dominant hand. You, sir, are full of it. Any medic who can do all of these things one-handed AND maintain enough situational awareness to simultaneously act as medic AND police officer is either a really good storyteller or most assuredly BAD at both being a medic and being a police officer.

    I work in one of the most dangerous cities in the country. We seldom respond with police or fire as a backup. My partner and I have this conversation regularly, and we are in complete agreement despite vastly different backgrounds, political perspectives, and thoughts on guns in general. Neither of us will ever carry, or allow someone else to carry, in our rig, concealed or open. The only guns in our rig are strapped to the belts of police officers escorting patients in custody. Sometimes, the only chip we have to play is “Man, I ain’t the police!” It’s a good chip, and it almost always works. It would go RIGHT out the window the minute we start strapping guns to our belts.

    We never enter a room without figuring out how we’re going to get out of it, we also have a safe word AND a “warning word,” which we use to heighten our awareness and get ready to bail out, without actually bailing out. We work closely with our police. If we feel unsafe, we don’t go in. The NEUTRALITY of EMS is what keeps many of us safe from those who would do us harm. You cannot possibly prepare or account for situations like the sniper in Webster, NY and being armed wouldn’t have helped that situation. If someone is truly intent on doing you harm, carrying will likely not do you any good whatsoever. The possible drawbacks FAR outweigh the potential positives.

  3. Azirishmedic says:

    Let me first start by saying that I agree with you CCC, there are too many knuckleheads working today that I would not trust with any type of sidearm. That being said, the industry may begin to see an increase in former military medics coming into the ranks. These individuals are trained and used to carrying a sidearm and sometimes a rifle while completing their medic duties. What is your feeling towards those individuals wanting to carry, imagining if it was allowed by all applicable laws and employers?

    • That is a good question. Here’s how I look at it:

      EMS is there for a reason, and that reason is not enforcement. I believe that EMS carrying weapons would change how we are perceived by the public.

      I’ve worked in some very, very rough areas in my time, and even in the worst of neighborhoods, I was never afraid, because even the gangbangers knew that we were there to help, and that we could be trusted.

      Now, if a cop, or a military medic, or someone like that wants to carry a weapon, concealed, on their person, and it is allowed by laws and company policies, I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t want to work with someone who does carry.

  4. Flash Larry says:

    Well, this is a complicated issue, except when it’s not. I guess the posts above illustrate that point.

    By the way, I sometimes wonder how trip reports written by certain people would read. Just a side thought.

    First fact is that any contact with any other human beings always carries a risk that one of them may want to injure you with a gun, knife, fists, or another weapon. That is true anywhere, anytime. There have been soldiers who were prepared to take up arms and fight an enemy on a battlefield somewhere only to be gunned down by someone wearing the same uniform as they in a medical clinic somewhere. Police officers have been gunned down by colleagues or others in a police station. Presidents have been shot while heavily guarded. So the mere possession of a weapon or knowledge about weapons is no guarantee that a person won’t be injured or killed either on or off duty.

    Are there professions that bring their professionals into situations that have the potential to be or are in fact more dangerous – where danger refers to being assaulted – than other professions? Yes, and EMS is one of them. Law enforcement is probably the one that people think about most.

    There really is no way of avoiding this contact except to stay out of these professions. You have police officers who have had years of training and experience with self-defense and with firearms. Despite that, the number of officers who are injured and killed in the line of duty is distressing and appalling. Consider the number of EMT’s and Paramedics who die in the line of duty. Most are killed in car crashes or die from health-related issues. Those who die violently usually do so at the hands of fellow employees or their significant others or partners’s significant others, and the impression given is that almost all of these are for personal reasons – related to sexual liasons. This is a hard saying but those are the reports and we have to be realistic about it.

    So, I would ask then, what does arming EMS personnel do to prevent these type events? Are you going to draw down on your partner’s husband when he walks in the station because he may think (or know) that you’re sleeping with his wife. And certainly carrying firearms won’t prevent ambulance crashes.

    I think the world is changing and today we hear many, many more examples of law enforcement officers improperly displaying or using a firearm – and I’m not talking about them shooting some nut case in DC that is now being called unnecessary. I’m talking about shooting pets whom they think are dangerous, even when the pet is in his own house or yard and the owner is not a suspect felon. But that aside, most officers are responsible with their firearms because they’ve had extensive training, and in many departments (and by virtue or peace officer certification standards in some entire states) officers have been subject to psychological evaluations to determine their fitness to carry a firearm. Officers have to go through extensive and repetitive training in handling firearms and the liability of using them. People often point out the issues of officers shooting themselves in the foot while unholstering a firearm or other such things but these instances are statistically miniscule. The number of untoward events involving officers and firearms is statistically almost zero when you consider the number of armed officers out there.

    There is another side to this and that’s the respondeat superior issue: the agency is legally responsible for the behavior of the officer.

    So we come to EMS. Are we really prepared to put EMS personnel out there armed but without ongoing training and certification in the use and liability associated with firearms? Are EMS agencies and companies prepared to take on the liability for allowing their employees to carry these firearms?

    And finally, I’ve always held that, for the most part, we are not considered “the enemy,” even when police agencies are in some cultures. We are viewed as those who are there to help, and saying, “Sir, I’m not the police and I’m not interested in what they are. I’m only interested in providing you the medical care that you need,” often defuses any hostility, if the person is treated with respect and as a patient (that doesn’t mean that I actually respect them or don’t think they are scumbags but it’s how you behave as a medical provider and as a person who wants to go home uninjured at the end of the shift). Are we willing to give up that perception in the mind of our patients that we are separate from the police and not a danger to them by them becoming aware that we are carrying firearms?

    I’m a rabid Second Amendment guy, but I believe that carrying firearms on ambulances is a bad idea. The occasions when we might need them are so rare, the education, training, certification and insurability are nonexistent, and the loss of perceived neutrality in the community we try to help would be devastating and perhaps create the situation we don’t want.

  5. I haven’t worked in truly “bad” neighborhoods as often as some folks, but I have. I’ve also worked in neighborhoods out in the boonies where practically every house has a gun, maybe many, and have entered many of the homes in either class of neighborhood without the police with me (although I’d prefer in any environment that they joined us, but that’s a different issue). The instances where I have truly been worried someone was going to actively try and harm me with malice are few and far between.

    I’ve been concerned about being assaulted by psychs, drunks, and the occasional a-hole on many occasions. I’ve been assaulted while working in an emergency room. That being said, the situation has NEVER arisen where I have felt I would be better off having a gun.

    Even the best prepared paramedics get assaulted, but if one looks at the circumstances, often those situations are ones that A.) a gun wouldn’t have been useful or justified B.) a gun being present outside of the hands of a trained police officer who wasn’t engaged in patient care may have have made things worse, or C.) situations that no one could have seen coming.

    The best we can do, some of which has been stated by a few of the other posters, is be aware of our surroundings, ask for the police early if we can should we find ourselves in need of them, stay with our partners unless it’s absolutely necessary and safe to do so, and don’t go into/remain in situations we know to be dangerous. Also, keeping in mind I’m not implying anyone in our profession deserves acts of violence being perpetrated upon them, people skills go a long way. Treating everyone respectfully pays off big time.

    Sometimes, bad things happen. Paramedics having guns won’t change that.

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