How medics can handle premeditated attacks focus of FRM session

This Fire-Rescue Med conference presentation highlights ways to improve situational awareness and better react to an ambush

The Fire-Rescue Med session Premeditated Responder Ambush: Pre-Planning and Response Strategies, examines an increase over the past decade of EMS providers being targeted for violence, and explores how responders must adopt a new mindset to deal with these assaults.

First and foremost, EMS providers must “accept the fact that it can happen,” said Cottleville Fire Protection District (Mo.) Fire Chief Rob Wylie. His lecture demonstrates why providers should approach scenes with the attitude that there’s a possibility people in their communities may want to harm them, and encourages them to adopt the mindset that they need to be prepared for premeditated assaults.

“We’ll be in your house, unarmed, ready to be attacked in three to four minutes,” he said.

What motivates an attack on EMS?

Through case studies and best practices, Wylie teaches the motivating factors for violence, warning signs to predict assaults, and strategies to improve situational awareness and reactions to an ambush.

“You can see some things in hindsight, like the rationale behind the attacks,” Wylie said.

Using past incidents, he shows how factors like someone being upset with police over a fight with a neighbor, or frustrated with the city for not maintaining landscaping services, can trigger premeditated violence against EMS.  

Situational awareness and information sharing

In his lecture, Wylie also goes over the response to a premeditated ambush, a spontaneous ambush, and an ambush that occurs when dealing with crowds, such as assaults on first responders during the recent civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

He highlights the importance of being aware of your surroundings, and the need for better communication between EMS and law enforcement. 

“If you’re going to a house for a cardiac arrest and you’ve been there before for domestic abuse, have your antenna up,” he said. “If you’re on a medical call and you see weapons all over the place, let the cops know.”

He also relays tips and tricks, such as pulling up past the house you’re responding too.

“You’ve seen three sides; take a look at the fourth side,” he said. “It’s easy to set up an ambush past the house.” By maintaining a high level of situational awareness, EMTs are more in tune with information like where the nearest exit is or what a person’s body language means, and can more easily identify potential threats, he said.

Visualizing the attack

Wylie also teaches the importance of mental preparation by visualizing the response to an assault, similar to how athletes prepare for a big game.

“When something bad happens, you don’t think – you react,” he said. “And if you do the mental rehearsal, you’re going to react better.”

The conference, hosted by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, runs from March 23 – 25, in Henderson, Nevada. Register information is available at Fire-Rescue Med.

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