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Fire, EMS responders share lessons from Ferguson

Trying to protect civilians and ourselves is a difficult proposition, as those on the ground in Ferguson will attest

To say the situation in Ferguson, Mo. is a mess is to put it mildly.

At last week’s Fire-Rescue International conference, I spent time with two people who’ve been on the ground during the Ferguson protests and riots. Both, though in different capacities, were concerned with EMS units in the hot zone. During dinner one night, they relayed some unnerving stories.

It is understandable that mainstream media outlets overlook the risks this situation presents medics and firefighters on the ground. But it is probably one of the first things everyone reading this thought about.

The stories I heard over that dinner ranged from unprovoked one-on-one aggressive confrontations to objects being hurled seemingly at random targets.

If you’ve not yet seen it, watch this video featured in Tuesday’s newsletter and our new Paramedic Cheif newsletter for industry leaders. In it, EMS Chief Chris Cebollero walks you through the initial EMS response and how they reacted to a very fluid situation.

Chief Cebollero talks about “feeling” the situation get more dangerous and instructing his crews to keep an eye out for those who may be reaching for weapons and repositioning his ambulances for a fast and safe getaway.

During his presentation at FRI, Chief Rob Wylie talked about keeping safe in tactical EMS situations. He likened it to geese; while the flock eats, there’s always one with its head up looking out for danger.

One of the interesting observations from Chief Cebollero was that if anything positive has come of this situation was that it taught those paramedics how to manage an EMS scene in a dynamic crisis.

And that is a lesson we can all take from this incident and the observations of those on the ground.

As Chief Wylie pointed out in his session, when a violent situation catches us off guard, we have a one-in-three chance of making the right decision. And those odds are dramatically increased if we’ve thought through the scenarios and the best reactions well before it hits the fan.

Take the situation in Ferguson, overlay it on your jurisdiction and work through how you’d handle it.

Rick Markley is the former editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s of fine arts. He has logged more than 15 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at