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7 reasons not to arm EMS providers

Saving our lives is far more complex than putting guns in our hands while on duty


Photo/City of Louisville

By Michael Morse

My peers in EMS tend to believe that today’s world is more dangerous, more violent and harder than any time in history.

Social media is abuzz with reports of shootings, bombings, assaults on EMTs, firefighters and the police. Just about every news source highlights the day’s most bizarre murder, and it matters not where it happened as long as it was gruesome.

Understandably, a call to arms is being heard more loudly. Everybody has a voice these days, and the louder the voice, the more attention it gets. The pro-gun crowd makes a lot of racket.

The truth is, the world we inhabit today is far less dangerous than the one I lived in when I started my EMS career in 1991. A lot of the misconception concerning the eroding safety in the world has to do with the way news is reported. When the focus is on singular events rather than long-term trends, it appears as if the moment we are in could very well be the absolute worst.

I spent decades as an EMT in the inner city. During that time, shootings were a daily occurrence. Guns were plentiful in 1991, 2001, and 2011, and they remain a scourge in Providence, Rhode Island. I was immersed in the violence for so long I became immune. It was business as usual to respond to multiple shootings during a shift — day or night.

One fact remained constant: I never needed a gun. If I had one, I would have used it, and who knows what the outcome could have been.

Arming firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics has become a hot-button issue in Public Safety circles. Conventional wisdom dictates that an armed firefighter/EMT is a safe firefighter/EMT. At first glance, the idea seems reasonable. The populace may not be more violent in years past, but they are still a volatile bunch.

In some rural areas, firefighters, EMTs, and the police all wear the same hat, and for them, carrying a sidearm makes perfect sense. But the more you consider arming only those firefighters and EMTs who feel the need to carry, the more you see just how counterproductive arming firefighters and EMS providers is.

EMS is a dangerous profession. EMTs and paramedics die far too often while performing their duty. The vast majority of us are killed in vehicle collisions and heart attacks. Saving our lives is far more complex than putting guns in our hands while on duty.

7 reasons NOT to arm EMS

1) EMS is hard enough. Carrying a firearm (and maintaining proper training) while on duty will only make it harder.

2) The public we serve needs to know we are neutral. Arming even one EMS provider ruins that status and puts all of us at risk.

3) A firearm will not help in close quarter assaults.

4) The overwhelming majority of attacks on EMS providers are not deadly. Many would escalate with a gun in the mix.

5) Two hands on the patient = no hands on the gun

6) Arming EMS providers will not make us less prone to being attacked. The people who attack us now are the same ones who attack armed police officers – with deadly results.

7) “Medic 1, stage for police … oh, never mind, you guys have guns, advance to the scene …”

Carrying a gun is far different than carrying a flashlight or other piece of equipment. Everything changes: the way you are perceived by the public, the way you feel about yourself, your expectations, your limitations…everything.

Police officers are shot while on duty far too often, and they are highly trained, properly equipped, and far more aware of the potential for violence than EMS providers are. We provide emergency medical care. Our focus is on healing, and getting people to places where they have the best chances of getting better.

If I thought that even one firefighter or EMS provider who was killed by gunfire might be alive today by arming all of us, I would be all for it. But the truth is, more of us would be killed by gunfire than saved by our guns. We need to consider the big picture when arguing for arming EMS. Does your right to bear arms include the workplace? Will you insist on carrying even though you put the rest of us at risk?

I hope that people are able to put their egos aside and think about the repercussions of their actions. Insisting that you have the right to bear arms while providing EMS care for safety reasons sounds well and good, but in reality brings far more unsafe elements to our workplace.

For society to continue to flourish, it is imperative that public safety personnel have clearly defined roles and operate within their scope of practice. We simply cannot have random firefighters and EMS personnel carrying firearms, concealed or open.

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