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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.

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  1. Yeah, I don’t see any reason why EMT’s shouldn’t have the same rights as other citizens in this regard. I do think your concern about being mistaken for a police officer while open carrying is well placed. If the state legalizes it, the localities can’t do anything about it. We’re a Dillon’s Rule state and the AG and the courts have repeatedly said that localities cannot pass their own gun control laws.

  2. I am a paramedic for a big city service in Texas (next door to you Nick). We have yet to have a line of duty death, but I have been been in some dicey situations. I have a CHL, and the only times I am disarmed is at work or when I walk my girls into school (gun stays in the car). My employer has a strict no weapons on the property policy. I have considered carrying anyway, on the theory that being alive and jobless beats possibly dying. Where I get tangled up is Texas has a no hospital CCW rule. I’m with you Nick, I think allowing EMS to carry concealed would make things safer for us. I am an official with a badge, so people already mistake us for police 🙂

    • yeah it was in Chicago. What you don’t ever hear about is the private companies routinely get their ambulances stolen for joyrides.

    • I’ve heard in some cities the Fire Department and EMS get shot at enough or have to deal with unruly crowds that they can’t go in till the cops lock down the scene while some poor bastard bleeds out in the meantime.

      • In the time before Chicago shipped out their freeloaders to the suburbs, they had high rise “rent” controlled section 8 housing. These were located literally 3-5 minute walks from downtown restaurants, clubs, bars, and upscale housing. They finally tore them all down, but when EMS wold get a call there, the dispatchers would never hang up with the person who called 911. When EMS got onto scene, they would status with dispatch, and the dispatchers would tell them to walk down. There was an unwritten rule that you did not go in these buildings without police escort. And only during the day.

  3. Well I totally agree with CC for EMT, and even some fire personal.
    Training of course will need to be given with quals and the like, but it is more of a formality.
    If we get national reciprocity then DC can make all the rules they want it won’t matter…

  4. I’ve worked 911 in the Chicago land area as a paramedic. I’ve been on the private side and on the municipal side, and let me tell you, the last thing I would want is my M&P on my body when I go into some of those houses.

    Maybe Nick can corroborate this, because it happened in Miami FL also. Its not uncommon walking into a house in the middle of the night and having 15-30 people packed into one house all living off the federal/state/city government’s (YOUR’S and MY) money. They generally are “pleased” to see us, but there’s been some interesting moments.

    I always carry at least one knife on me, generally 3 while working on a rig. But I really don’t think there is ever a reason for EMS to be carrying. Don’t feel safe in the situation your going into? Don’t go. My safety and my partner’s safety are always first. Period.

    Plus, in the South and West sides of Chicago and certain parts of Miami, as soon as the gangs realize that EMS is carrying, there WILL be problems with crews getting accosted. No doubt in my mind. In strictly rural areas, where police is 20-30 minutes away? That could be an exception. But I still wouldn’t feel comfortable with it.

  5. Nice bag of vipers Nick. I have been practicing pre-hospital emergency medicine full and part (60hrs) for 11 years. I have worked at Volunteer, Commercial, and Combination agencies. I have had the pleasure to work Rural, Suburban, and Urban environments. That said a few years ago we lost a volunteer EMT who responded to a chest pain call, He rang the doorbell and was shot by the deranged caller after he answered the door. Concealed carry would not have helped him, he was not prepared or in a risky environment.
    This all said I am for the option to carry on duty. When I work Commercial ambulance I am required to sit on a street corner with only my partner and a radio to protect me as my pocket is full of an increasing array of narcotics and benzodiazepines. As well as Needles and syringes. The savages in this urban area are killing over $20 robberies and killing and terrorizing witnesses.
    Getting called to a scene always lights off some people to condition yellow or orange, but the collage kids I work with live in White the rest of the time. So when your drowsey on your 12hr shift at 0413 and the coffee is not prying your eyes open, add to that the built in blind spots on Ambulances. You are in a crappy situation. Giving yourself another option, event the most drastic one might be the difference between life and death. That is why we carry in our private life, am I right?
    Anyway, Carry is not prohibited by law, but State DOH has a policy discouraging the carry of weapons, Our region has copy/paste the discouragement. But my employers specifically prohibit all weapons on premises or on duty.

    • This is so true. I would always hold directly in front of the police station when we would get posted at certain hospitals at o-dark-thirty.

  6. Utah does not place carry restrictions on our EMS or fire personnel, many departments require a letter from the captain and a photo copy of your CCW permit and most of the private EMS companies in SLC have their own restrictions but there are none at the state level.

  7. So this will be a thread drift but I want to throw out a question to the EMT’s and paramedics who might be reading this. People who conceal carry and get into high-speed motor vehicle accidents: have you seen their weapons dislodged from their holsters? If not, how often are the “made” when being extricated versus finding the concealed weapon in the ER? It’s the scenario I have in my head that I’m unconscious in an accident, and the first responders don’t see and/or secure my weapon. It’s a little hard to Google this question.

    • I’ve found 2 on trauma PT’s. One was still on the guy’s hip in the holster. The other was in the holster, but the holster was loose in the leather jacket (motorcycle slip and fall). I was taught to always disrobe trauma PT’s to make 100% sure that they don’t have any other apparent injuries. That being said, the 2 times it happened, it happened inside the rig. My LT took a shit when we found the Glock. Face was priceless. All we ended up doing was removing the clip, removing the round in the pipe, and left it locked back, had the cops come get it out of our rig at the hospital.

    • Usually give it to Law Enforcement, On the flip side If I’m carrying and injured I would request law enforcement to secure it, only If my Wife was not available to take possession.

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