Medics reminded to remain vigilant after NYPD fatal shooting

The retaliation killing of two police officers has sent a shock wave through all of public safety, including EMS

The fatal shooting of two New York City police officers on Saturday allegedly in retaliation for the police chokehold death of Eric Garner has sent shockwaves throughout all of public safety, including EMS.

Gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley announced online that he was planning to shoot two “pigs,” authorities say. He walked up to the patrol car that Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were sitting in, and shot them several times in their heads and upper bodies. He then fled to a subway station and committed suicide as responders closed in.

The officers never had a chance to draw their weapons. The fact that they were in their cruiser on a street corner was particularly concerning to Ryan Greenberg, Chief of EMS Operations for Vanguard Health Systems and a NEMSMA board member.

“We sit on the street corner,” Greenberg said. “That’s our station, our lunch corner. They were doing something many public servants do every day. Yes, this incident is a real concern for EMS.”

Four medics were also suspended in the aftermath of Garner’s death. They were later reassigned, and cleared and reinstated. 

Dave Konig at said the EMS response to the Garner incident may not be overlooked.  

“It’s in the back of our minds,” he said. “Who is going to turn around and get mad at the EMTs?”

The NYPD incident has put him more on guard, more nervous and more aware of his surroundings, but he said he doesn’t necessarily feel any more unsafe because of it.

“Am I more worried than I was before? No. Because I live and work in New York City; situational awareness and vigilance is 24-7,” he said. “But will I walk into an apartment tomorrow and be hyper-aware? Probably.”

EMS getting caught in the police crossfire

EMS often responds to calls in unsafe areas, and like police, need to maintain a high level of situational awareness, Greenberg said.

“We go into a lot of stuff alone, and we don’t have a lot of protection,” he said.

Konig also talked about the risks EMS providers face, and how they differ from those of police.

“We don’t necessarily have this perception from the public that we’re against them, and that’s something [police] have to deal with,” Konig said.

“If anything I think the biggest fear for EMS would be getting caught in the crossfire,” Greenberg said.

Indeed, he and responders throughout New Jersey were on high alert in July 2014 after a gang threatened to shoot police to avenge a Bloods gang member who was shot after he killed a rookie officer, and members planned to target EMTs to draw a larger police response.

“It was a really scary moment,” Greenberg said. “It was one of the only times I was scared when going to work.”

EMTs were given ballistic vests, and their deployment policy was modified based on the risk, with units posting within line of site to other units.

In Rockland County, a suburb of New York City, EMS Executive Director Ray Florida said he works in a large Jewish Orthodox community which poses an ongoing concern about so called “lone wolf” attacks by extremists.

“There is very recent threat against an Orthodox county legislator that is being actively investigated by Rockland County Sheriff Department and the FBI,” Florida said. “We have advised our personnel to be vigilant and stay alert regarding their surroundings and potential threats. Now with the recent shooting of the two NYPD officers we are again advising our personnel to remain vigilant while in uniform.”

How to stay safer and reduce risk

When it comes to keeping EMS providers safe Greenberg said it’s important to use common sense and trust your instincts.

“If something doesn’t feel right, remove yourself from the situation,” he said. “We can’t stress that enough. That gut feeling goes a long way.”

Konig said he doesn’t see EMS implementing any deployment changes based on the NYPD shooting, but providers can take individual safety measures. For instance, he suggested rather than posting on a main thoroughfare, move to a less trafficked area.

Konig said he also would also chose an area where he had good visual access on all sides, and he wouldn’t leave the ambulance idling in case someone approaching was a potential threat. 

Florida also listed ways for EMS to increase safety:

  • Operate in teams when possible
  • Officers should closely supervise members and movement, and use caution during non-emergency events such as demonstrations, standbys, and public education events. When safety concerns arise, notify police.
  • Conduct a survey of the area where units are operating and staging to ensure the area is safe, and request law enforcement to assist in this action.
  • Supervisors should discuss personal safety with members, and possible terrorist scenarios involving high-profile locations within their response areas.

In the future, Greenberg said he envisions more interagency responses and coordination between public safety agencies – which is something that was recently successfully demonstrated during the protests in Ferguson, Mo.

When a 911 call comes in, Konig said he often responds along with police and fire. A multi-disciplinary approach also establishes emotional ties across agencies, and the shooting of NYPD officers Liu and Ramos speaks to that.

“We end up on a lot of different jobs with these guys in law enforcement and on the fire side as well,” Konig said. “The ambulance that responded probably knew those guys and that in and of itself would be a traumatic experience.”

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