Its no secret that I’ve spent a good portion of my nights since graduating college in the back of an ambulance. In fact, there’s no place I’d rather be most nights. But with that position comes a ton of risk, as EMTs are often called to the worst neighborhoods and into dangerous situations in the dead of night with little backup. It sounds like the perfect case for concealed carry on the job, and Virginia’s consideration of removing the state-wide ban on armed EMTs might seem like a step in that direction, but it’s not quite as cut and dried as it you’d think . . .
Currently, in the state of Virginia (where I am still a licensed EMT-B and ran 911 calls for a few years), emergency medical personnel cannot carry a gun in an emergency vehicle. Some counties go a step further and prohibit carry on fire department grounds, but the vehicle is 100% off limits. Here’s the law as it stands now:
Possession of a firearm, weapon, or explosive or incendiary device on any EMS vehicle is prohibited, except:
a. A sworn law-enforcement officer authorized to carry a concealed weapon pursuant to § 18.2-308 of the Code of Virginia.
b. Any rescue line gun or other rescue device powered by an explosive charge carried on a nontransport response vehicle.
Virginia is currently in the process of bringing their rules and regs concerning EMTs and other emergency personnel into compliance with the National Registry system, and in the process of amending the rules to get all the jargon right the state is considering removing that prohibition on firearms.
Personally, I don’t agree with arming EMTs. There’s a clear distinction between the police and EMS and it’s there for a good reason. Specifically, someone who is hurt or injured might not seek help if they thought they might be thrown in jail.
But on the other hand, I don’t have a problem with EMTs carrying concealed by their own choice. It’s a dangerous job, especially in some of the more remote parts of the state where police backup might not be available for the crews going into a scene. Having the ability to protect your life and the life of your crew would be a major benefit for EMTs, not only in the urban areas but also out in the wilderness.
The key word there is “concealed.” Open carry is legal in Virginia, but the population might have a hard time distinguishing between an open carrying EMT in their blue uniform and a police officer. Like I said, the clear distinction between EMS and LEOs is one that benefits not only the medical professionals (by keeping them from being grouped in with the “pigs”) but also the public, as a handgun doesn’t always give off that compassionate and caring vibe that we’re trying to put out and people are more likely to call compassionate EMTs.
This change in the law won’t mean instant concealed carry in every fire department, though. Places like Fairfax have more strict prohibitions in their local rules and regs, which override the permissive state law. Even on things like speed limits, while the state says ambulances can go as fast as they want to with the lights and sirens (with “due regard to human life”), Fairfax puts a hard limit on the speed their equipment can go.
And then we get into interesting situations with the fire departments surrounding Washington, DC. The local counties participate in a mutual aid agreement that sends Arlington and Fairfax ambulances into DC and vice versa as required, but if a Fairfax EMT has a concealed weapon and is ordered into DC what happens then? Naturally that’s something that would need to be ironed out on the local level, but its an interesting wrinkle that no doubt is in the minds of the legislators.
Personally, I’d love to see an exemption to the concealed carry law for on-duty EMTs and universal ability to exercise that option. It would strike the right balance between giving the EMTs the ability to keep themselves safe and maintaining the image of the emergency medical service in the public’s mind. I know its a pipe dream, but a man can hope.
So until then, we can wait and watch as Virginia removes their state wide in-vehicle concealed carry ban.