Federal Way residents are encouraged to get Community Emergency Response Training, also known as CERT.
When I attended a few years back, I was surprised to learn that South King Fire and Rescue has a policy of not responding to emergencies where there is an imminent threat of violence. That makes sense because most firefighters and EMTs are not trained to deal with violence.
The good sense behind the policy notwithstanding, you won’t feel better if your home or business burns to the ground during a violent civil disturbance while the firefighters watch from a distance.
The Seattle Fire Department was previously involved in Counter Narcotics Terrorist Operations and Medical Support (CONTOMS), a program funded by the Department of Defense. The program trained paramedics and EMTs assigned to SWAT teams. The program was discontinued because the medical personnel from the department did not carry weapons.
The fact that a firefighter or EMT in Seattle and South King County does not carry a gun raises the question of whether it would be prudent to have armed personnel responding to certain emergencies. The culture of law enforcement is different from that of EMTs and firefighters. But we see cultures being transformed all around us. We could have tactical firefighters and EMTs that are trained to go into domestic battle zones.
We live in a time when budgets are strained beyond belief. New programs are out of the question. From talking to local firefighters, many of them carried guns when dispatched to the Los Angeles riots in 1992. The firefighters and EMTs could not carry legally, but they carried concealed firearms nevertheless.
Why were local firefighters sent into a violent conflict in Southern California when they have a policy in force that might prevent a response right here in King County?
Some of the questions we should be raising are related to insurance policies and liability. Analyzing almost any modern policy question usually entails the all-important question of how much the insurance premiums cost. Lawyers are graded in law school based on how many liabilities we can find hidden within any set of hypothetical facts. Insurance actuaries must account for what a jury might be likely to decide if a municipality or other entity is sued.
In a recent Redmond Reporter article, Steve Strachan, chief deputy of the King County Sheriff’s Office, stated that in 25 years he has never seen law enforcement having as many “open, substantive and robust discussions about our training, our policies and our expectations.”
We should not be in denial when it comes to the potential for violence. Law enforcement is presently trained with much more intense tactical methods. We need to discuss new methods for protecting our schools, homes, churches and work — and find ways to equip firefighters and EMTs for emergencies where the potential for violence is present.