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Assaulting firefighters should be against the law.

The recent spate of assaults against firefighters leads me to believe there ought to be a law against such behavior and the individual assaulting a firefighter should be tossed in jail and the key tossed away.

Assault is defined as intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm or intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.  No intent to cause physical injury needs to exist, and no physical injury needs to result.

A review of various state laws indicates there are laws protecting firefighters from assault. The only problem is, those are applied after the fact whereas the person assaulting firefighters has already kicked your butt.

For example in Washington State the criminal statute is found in 9A.36.031 (e) Assault in the third degree which states:  (1) A person is guilty of assault in the third degree if he or she, under circumstances not amounting to assault in the first or second degree: (e) Assaults a firefighter or other employee of a fire department, county fire marshal's office, county fire prevention bureau, or fire protection district who was performing his or her official duties at the time of the assault; or (f) With criminal negligence, causes bodily harm accompanied by substantial pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; and is considered a class C FELONY.   For a class C felony, penalty is imposed by imprisonment in a state correctional institution for a maximum term of not more than five years, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of not more than ten thousand dollars, or by both such imprisonment and fine.

OK, we locked the person up for a while and fined them a significant amount of money but what of the firefighter with a broken jaw, black eye or other bodily injuries?

Many times firefighters get into situations during EMS or fire calls where the public is angry, intoxicated, mentally ill, are criminals or other human conditions that cause them to lash out. Many times we are the object of that anger. A recent video of firefighters in Glendale Arizona assaulted by a patient went viral and some of the comments indicated the firefighters overreacted to the assault. Really?

On a daily basis firefighters are being assaulted, stabbed and shot by our patients. We need to protect ourselves and not overreact and at times it is difficult to control our response to being assaulted.

Our recourse is found in the following recommendations:

  • Self defense classes are important to your firefighters as we are not interested in engaging in combat with your patient, but to exert enough force to stop the attack BUT not to be punitive in your response. Personally, you need to be aware of exits from these situations and using the “RUN AWAY” theory if the patient begins the assault or pulls a weapon.

  • Talking. You should be de-escalating the situation by talking to the patient, backing out of the situation and call the cops. If physically attacked, then defend yourself.

  • Situational awareness, with a nod to my fellow firefighter Rich Gassaway, you need to understand what scenario you are entering and to proceed with caution and be prepared for a possible assault by the patient, family or bystanders.

  • Weapons?  Knives, batons, handguns, stun guns?  NO, NO, NO. Cops will tell you that protecting the weapon is paramount in their response to an assault. We are not in the business of exerting deadly force against our patients.

  • Police escort? In known situations then yes, get the local police involved and stand by until they get there. They have the weapons and know how to use them

  • Public Cameras. Remember the public cameras. They are everywhere and they are watching you and the images are quick to go viral. You generally look bad even though there is no way to see the beginning of the incident as the “tussle” has begun and only then does a citizen whip out the camera and start recording your actions of subduing “this poor patient”. Give me a break!!

It is important that you return home safely at the end of each shift. Protecting yourself is well within your ability to actually make that happen. Take a self defense class, get your firefighters on board with this training and remember that not everyone likes you.

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