While doing research for this blog, I came across a couple of very interesting articles that I will provide the links for and I would encourage you to read them and perhaps, pass them along. They were very enlightening and take my thoughts to a wider spectrum when thinking about responses and pre-plans. They can be found at the end of this piece.
With yesterday’s (April 10, 2013) incident in Suwanee, GA, where five firefighters responded to a call and were then taken hostage; I became curious about the frequency of this type of event, because it was just Christmas Eve in 2012 when we had the career scumbag in Webster, NY start a fire and then waited in ambush for the fire crew to show up and then he proceeded to shoot four of them, killing two.
On July 21, 2008, Maplewood, MO saw the 22-year-old son of the former mayor fatally shot while responding to a pick-up truck on fire-his first fire call as a Maplewood firefighter. He was shot as he got off of the rig. He joined the department in August, 2007.
The incident that I can vividly remember involved Lt. Brenda Cowan of the Lexington, KY Fire Department. She and her crew came under fire while responding to a medical call at the scene of a domestic disturbance on February 13, 2004. Lt. Cowan and one of her crew were shot. Lt. Cowan died from her wounds.
The last high profile attack in this country involving firefighters occurred in Memphis, TN on March 9, 2000. What sets this one apart from the others is that a firefighter killed his wife, set the house on fire and then opened fire on the responding fire crew. Two members of the crew died, in addition to a deputy sheriff who responded. The news article indicated that the shooter knew the responding crew members.
It would appear that these types of incidents, though major news when they occur, are uncommon.
The common thread of these five incidents is that the firefighters were targeted. In fact, they were likely chosen because they were SOFT targets.
Take the Suwanee, GA incident; the perpetrator is rumored to have called it in as a medical call, because he knew firefighters would respond and they wouldn’t have guns. It could most likely be said of the other incidents that the perpetrators knew the guns wouldn’t arrive until the cops showed up. And though I can’t remember the ensuing discussions that came out of the Memphis, TN incident; I can say with certainty that discussions about arming firefighters and EMTs have been posted on several firefighter websites and blogs as a result of the other incidents.
But given the scarcity of these events; wouldn’t we be better served to train personnel to recognize the potential for violence when responding to a call? Responding to potentially violent calls is covered in the Life Safety Initiatives.
For me; the bigger question is; why are firefighters targeted for violence?
The most obvious answer is that firefighters DON’T carry firearms. Oh; we have “weapons”, but not guns (the exception in Illinois is arson investigators, who can carry firearms). When we are called, we go without hesitation. “Tunnel vision” has been a part of our lexicon for decades, but we are still getting bitten by its practice. Caution is abhorred and FAST isn’t fast enough. And we find out too late that we don’t have enough Kevlar® in our coats to stop a bullet.
At potential crime scenes, firefighters are the first “eyes” on scene and we become an extension of the law enforcement agency in this regard. We provide the LEOs with first-hand information that they might not otherwise obtain. In addition, under that turnout gear is a uniform and on that uniform is a badge and we all know that a badge represents authoritarian tenets that can cause resentment in others.
We live in a world where our citizens still graciously refer to firefighters as “heroes”. Unfortunately, there is a segment that exists in our society that belittles and denigrates the work of public servants for no other reasons than for envy and jealousy. They fail to see the difference between what they do for a living and what a firefighter does for a living. The humility of the firefighter won’t let them engage in this type of debate. Outwardly, they will tell the naysayer that his job is just as important as that of a firefighter, but the firefighter knows that they have the best job in the world!
So far, I have offered reasons for firefighters targeted for violence as: soft target, authority figures, resentment, envy and jealousy. Are we giving the criminal too much credit for having the intellect to know how to set a trap? What if mental illness pre-disposes them to not knowing the difference between right and wrong? Or is it cowardice for them to know that they can shoot without the worries of return gun-fire? Would they ever understand that shooting firefighters goes straight to the heart of a community and shakes the very soul of its citizens? Is it the momentary mayhem that will leave a community living in fear of a “next time”?
When firefighters take the solemn oath to risk their lives for others; they know their skills and though they can do many things, running faster than a bullet isn’t one of them.
And with each incident, it sparks the gun debate and at the very least, it causes us to add another module to our training.
I will have to have this independently verified by my friend, Paul Grimwood, but this article had me shaking my head. Back in 2008, hooligans in England were attacking fire crews with bricks and bottles while responding to set fires at a rate of 40 attacks a week. It was estimated that in 2006 and 2007, fire companies were attacked over 1,500 times! I hope that things have improved.
In closing, I will add three links to articles that discusses targeted violence. You may find them interesting.
http://www.frdp.org/article2.htm (cut and paste into browser)
In the meantime, widen your field of vision and look for signs that could have you pinned down inside a sniper’s kill zone. And just like we have to continually watch for changes in fire conditions, we must also look for those who would do us harm.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.