Is it time we armed EMS providers?

Sadly, in the wake of recent events, it seems that it may need to become an option

Initially, the idea of EMS providers carrying guns seemed cool to me, but so did being a sunscreen applier on a topless beach; then I saw a topless beach and who actually goes there…be careful what you wish for.

The once anodyne and utterly neutral environment that was EMS has clashed with a world that has, and continues to, change seemingly by the hour. Sadly, in the wake of recent events, it seems that the time for armed EMS providers may very well be upon us.

A recent story from the Dayton Daily News described one Ohio Township where the firefighters have been authorized to carry a concealed weapon — gun — while on duty. The arguments for and against were interesting and logical and it got me thinking: What does an armed emergency medical service look like? What does that world look like?

A sniper targeting EMS providers seems both surreal and not surprising. It's counterintuitive to take the lives of those there to save lives…unless, of course, you don't want a particular life to be saved. I guess.

Then there was the man who held EMS providers hostage because his cable was shut off. I understand the visceral need for HBO, Comedy Central, and the Fox News Channel, truly I do, but calling 911 to have hostages delivered transcends even my twisted imagination.

This list is long and growing.

If you had asked me on September 10, 2001 whether EMS providers should be armed, I would have said "never in a million years!" But now, I don't know.

It's almost as if 9/11 infected our once idyllic humanity with a slow-growing and ultimately terminal strain of social cancer: the notion that there are no rules and nothing is off limits if you have a point to make or purpose to achieve.

Here we are, a dozen years later and arming EMS providers is not an altogether ridiculous thought.

It's just another tool
EMS providers are trained to use tools. The rescue, ambulance, and engine are all fully loaded with tools; some used frequently, some used almost never. A gun is a tool. Pepper spray, Tasers, and restraints are just tools.

Like all tools in EMS, the most important factor is training. Providers are trained and practiced and tested on devices like traction splints and defibrillators. Ideally, their use is second nature.

The same would have to be true for weapons. It will never be enough to simply send a provider through a CCW (Carry Concealed Weapon) course and then let them hit the field locked & loaded.

Like every other EMS tool, providers would require extensive training on handling, maintaining, deploying and employing the tool; situation and scenario training; training on policies and procedures related to all aspects of using the tool; and frequent updating, retraining, and practice — as should be the case for ALL EMS tools and techniques, especially those used less frequently.

Traversing the gray areas
In a vacuum, a well-trained, highly-skilled armed EMS provider makes sense. However, to quote the great Geddy Lee: "…Nothing can survive in a vacuum…" and reality is never as simple as well-trained and highly-skilled.

For example, where is the confluence of "armed for self-defense" and "armed for defense of others"? When will "armed for crime mitigation" morph into "armed for crime prevention"?

What happens when an armed paramedic, refilling her coffee at a local convenience store, is caught up in a robbery attempt? Does she act more than calling it in? Does she draw down and attempt to take custody of the villain? Does sheput the bad guy down?

Now, complex legal, strategic, and tactical training & certification must be added to simple weapons and scenario education.

What happens when the bad guy — wherever he is — brings the fight hand-to-hand? Now add critical close-fighting, weapon protection training to the growing list of prerequisites.

The natural extrapolation brings us to a place where, in order to be completely and properly trained, that EMS provider just became a police officer. That is, if the training of that armed provider is to be complete and proper.

In the second part of this article, we look at the cost of a pulled trigger and issues of liability. 

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