Robert forwarded an article earlier this week about a couple of EMTs that were ambushed in the line of duty. The were stabbed and pretty badly cut up. His question: should we arm EMTs? It’s a fair question, and given my background I think I’ve got enough experience to take a stab at an answer (no pun intended) . . .
There are two members of the TTAG staff with a medical background. John Wayne Taylor used to be a medic in the armed forces, so I’m pretty sure I can figure out his position on that question. As for me, I spent a couple years as a fully certified EMT and a member of a volunteer fire and rescue squad riding in the back of an ambulance. If you called 911 after dark on a Monday in Fairfax, Virginia, there was a pretty good chance that I was going to be the guy to show up.
Usually if there was some issue with scene safety on a call, we would be dispatched with a police unit to keep us safe. One shining example was when we were toned out to deal with the aftermath of the infamous serial butt slasher, and a police escort was already on scene to keep us from being the next victims.
Not every incident, however, was so cut and dry. One time when we were called out for a cardiac arrest in a nice, safe part of town, but when we arrived we quickly discovered that the cardiac arrest victim was merely so drugged up that his meth addict brother had thought he was dying and dialed 911. When the brother woke up he was convinced that we were there to kill him and proceeded to defend himself. Records indicate that from the time of our distress call to when every on-duty police officer in the county responded was five minutes, but it might as well have been hours.
When seconds count, the police are only minutes away…even if you’re on the same radio channel.
Given that experience you’d think that I would be all for arming EMTs. The nightmare scenario for every EMT in the county was being called to a fake emergency so that drug addicts could kill the responders and raid their ambulance for all the wonderful opiates sitting there in the meds kit. Giving EMTs a way to defend themselves seems to make perfect sense. The problem is that EMTs aren’t just there to treat physical issues. Sometimes there are mental health issues that need to be assessed as well.
Especially when drugs are involved, one of the most powerful things an EMT has in their bag isn’t the narcan. It’s the phrase, “We’re not the police, you’re not going to get into trouble.”
Even when on the verge of death, people can be reluctant to disclose what they’ve been doing if it’s illegal. Drug overdoses are a good example, but a better one might be the time when we were called out by a concerned mother to take a look at her obviously intoxicated 12-year-old son. In that case he was initially aggressive and reluctant to talk to us about anything, but a simple application of the “We’re not the police, we just want to make you better” phrase turned the whole situation around. All he needed was a little chat, and that phrase took him from aggression straight to compliance.
That’s an important tool for EMTs, which allows them to get the information they need from their patients when time is critical. The blue uniforms and flashing lights already make it hard enough for people to understand that concept — that EMTs aren’t cops, and whatever you say is private — and I’m convinced that if you add firearms to that situation, you’re only going to make it harder for the EMTs to do their job effectively.
There’s a caveat here, though. Arming EMTs as official policy is a bad idea, but disarming them as official policy is just as wrong-headed.
I was specifically forbidden from carrying a firearm on shift, despite the fact that I had a valid concealed handgun license and could out-shoot the police. I thank my lucky stars that I was never in a situation bad enough to warrant the use of deadly force, but I sure would have felt a lot more safe and secure knowing that the option was available.
Requiring EMTs to carry a firearm would undermine their ability to talk to their patients and would reinforce the confusion about the difference between medical and law enforcement personnel, something that’s bad for everyone. Permitting voluntary concealed carry, on the other hand, would be a responsible way for departments to allow their staff to defend themselves from the dangers they face every day. We ask these people to go into the houses of complete strangers, often unassisted by law enforcement. Every time they leave the station their lives are on the line. It’s a profession unlike any other on Earth with unique dangers that can’t be eliminated. Recognizing their natural right to keep and bear arms would definitely add to their security.
That said, open carry would almost certainly be a problem. Concealed carry is the only viable option that would allow medics to do their work without any additional complications. I can completely understand why people are hesitant to allow armed EMTs — they’re expected to be part social worker and part NASCAR driver, and do it all in some of the most dangerous sections of our cities. The idea of keeping EMTs disarmed to have them “off limits” for violence is appealing and one that goes back as far as the 1864 Geneva Conventions. But even in modern military conflicts our armed forces have come to understand that medics on the battlefield need a way to defend themselves.