It can’t happen here! Words I’m sure have been spoken before, and words I’m sure were regretted later. In an age where a 24-hour news cycle chronicles every event where people die, and a culture that needs instant gratification and “attention”, the perfect storm exists where first-responders are being attack in ever more frequency. Some deadly, most are not, but all are disturbing and appear to be trending upward.
I have asked my long-time friend and police chief Jeremy Jones (and Fire Engineering contributor) to weigh in on the subject as we tag-team on this issue. Jeremy and I respectively do not see eye to eye on every issue, but we both agree that awareness is key. He is one of the smartest men I know, and I literally trust him with my life, and the life of my family. Many people are presenting classes and lectures on assault within the fire and EMS community, but Jeremy has spent a career dealing with violent people and has an insight that most of us in the first-responder field do not. If you ever get the chance, you need to take his class!
So, that being said, I gladly yield the floor to the good gentleman from Ohio for his insight and expertise…
ASSAULT AWARENESS MATH
What changes can you make to the Assault Awareness Math equation to stack the odds more in your favor? The answer: None. You will, some of you routinely, receive calls to help, medically assist and transport disgruntled and/or deranged people. The thoughts and ideas going through their minds may be of a nature we simply cannot imagine. We have no clue of the “trigger” that can transform the nicest, most cooperative patient into the spawn of evil.
Recognize and accept the fact that most everyone has access to weapons. Being a convicted felon did not stop William Spengler (West Webster, NY, 2012 assault on firefighters) from acquiring a .223 cal. rifle, 12 gauge shotgun and .38 cal. revolver. I am sure most of us can agree; if someone wants a gun bad enough they can get one! Now remove all guns from the equation. Anyone can walk into the local hardware store and legally purchase a screwdriver, razor knife, claw hammer, hatchet, or countless other normal household items. All of which can be used as a very devastating weapon! In the prison system, is an inmate permitted to walk around the recreational yard with a stainless steel fork? Look around, wherever you are at this moment, and identify how many potential weapons are at your disposal. If I were to straighten part of a paperclip and jam it into your eyeball, I bet I would have your undivided attention.
I teach a class to firefighters and first responders on the topic of violence in the fire service. I always ask the students to give me a word to describe them as a “type” of target. The usual answers are: easy, unarmed, high profile, not expecting and soft. All the answers I get in class are correct and very true. But, the answer I am looking for is PREDICTABLE. Ladies and gentlemen, they know you are coming! Spengler left a note stating he wanted “…..to do what I like doing best, killing people.” It did not say firefighters, it said people. He wanted targets and he knew, like everyone knows, when a structure is on fire; firefighters (targets) are guaranteed to come. When someone calls 911 to report chest pains and shortness of breath, an EMS crew will be dispatched to their front door. During the hostage incident, Lauren Holman Brown told the Gwinnett County firefighters he knew they would be sent without law enforcement, for a medical call of that nature, and knew they would be unarmed. That is why he chose first responders to as his victims!
The answer to the first question I asked is not in the equation itself. All parts of the equations are common denominators of your job and things you have no way of controlling or changing. The answer is in the assignment. AWARENESS is the key to performing your job safer and keeping your crew safe. You know all of the other common denominators exist; it is up to YOU to be aware of YOUR situational awareness. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in “Mission Vision” and not be cognizant of your surroundings. Be sure to do complete size-ups of your fire scenes; assess the entire scene and not only whatever is on fire. Determine your sources of cover/concealment before the scene turns deadly. Before rushing into the bedroom to begin treating that possible cardiac patient, stop at the doorway- BEFORE you are committed inside the room- and observe the entire room. Can you see the patient’s hands and what is in them? Are you routinely looking and feeling for hidden weapons on patients BEFORE placing them in the ambulance? I put it to my students like this: Every one of you have someone at home who loves and cares about you. It is YOUR responsibility to go home to them after EVERY call. You owe it to them.
Be Safe brothers and sisters,
Jeremy C. Jones
Jeremy Jones is a 22-year veteran of law enforcement and currently serves as a chief of police in Ohio. During his law enforcement career he also served 12-years as a Level II firefighter. He is the owner and lead instructor of his training company, Family Protection Group, LLC (www.familyprotectionllc.us), which specializes in first responder defense training, armed and unarmed self-defense tactics. Jeremy is a graduate of the Police Executive Leadership College and a Session 248 graduate of the FBI National Academy. Jeremy can be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.