Arming Medical Personnel

I read on Paramedics on Facebook something about EMT’s and Medics now being able to carry guns as part of their equipment here in the US. The person who wrote the post may have been referring to a 2013 article in JEMS, where in Bethel Township, Ohio a program was launched allowing first responders to arm themselves.

Having spent nearly 25 years in Providence, RI as a firefighter medic, and having responded to  thousands of violent incidents involving firearms I figured I would weigh in:

“That’s me firing a gun in the Green Mountains of Vermont, a great place to shoot and carry. The ambulance is the WORST place to carry! Arming medics is absurd here in the Northeast, no good will come of it. Need two hands to treat patients, and that is what we need to focus on. Trust the police, and let them carry the guns and have our backs.”

People came out of the woodwork to comment, ridicule, support or just make noise. I wasn’t surprised, I would have kept my opinion to myself if I didn’t enjoy the back and forth, but could definitely do without the whole liberal vs conservative argument that took over the thread.
For society to flourish, the people who make up society need to know their limitations. We all can’t have everything.  EMT’s and Paramedics need to do what they do best, provide quality medical care to people who need it. This whole us against them mentality is ridiculous. Every now and then a patient is out of control, hostile, threatening and aggressive. Shooting that patient is counterproductive. Getting shot by that patient even more so.
Nobody can order me into an unsafe scene. We, as medical care providers have no business in an active shooter scenario unless properly trained as tactical medics. Every scene has the potential to evolve into an unsafe situation. In extremely rare circumstances first responders are shot and killed. Arming medical professionals in hopes of mitigating the likelihood of one of us being killed in the line of duty is never going to statistically or in reality keep any one of us out of harms way. All arming medics does is stroke egos, give a false sense of control during tense moments and antagonize the public.
We have armies. We have police departments. We have private security firms. We can play with guns all day long on our days off if we choose. We do not need to be armed. The myth that the world is more violent by the day is untrue. Recent FBI statistics regarding violent crime prove it.

“Contrary to popular opinion, violent crime is on the decline. Since 1995, violent crime in the United States has decreased by nearly half from 685 incidents per 100,000 Americans to 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans today, according to estimates released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Since 2010, the violent crime rate has dropped by 9.4%. In some states, crime rates have declined by more than twice the national drop.” ~ The Wall Street Journal

We are bombarded by negativity through the media, every hour of every day. It’s no wonder people think they need to arm themselves at work. But in the real world, the chance of being harmed by roving maniacs, atom bombs, foreign armies  or terrorists is lower now than any time in history.


  • john shuey says:

    I am certain the medics who were ambushed will agree with you.

  • Jason says:

    Police can not always be there and if you are carrying concealed you don’t have to keep your hands on your gun. If you don’t want to carry fine but it should be allowed for everyone to make the decision for themselves. Who are assuming we will know the scene is potentially dangerous prior to so we can have police backup. I will say this a hcp should not be the only training if we do ever get to carry. There should also be other options because you can’t always get to your weapons. Either.

  • Michael Morse says:

    The responses that this post generated here and on Facebook for the most part prove once and for all the EMS should not be armed. The whole thing has been a monumental waste of my time, I wish I had kept my opinion to myself.

    • Karin says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for not keeping this opinion to yourself. EMS should not be armed. Our job is to focus on patient care. You can’t be effective if your focus has to be split between your sidearm and your patient. And that’s only one reason not to arm EMS uniformly. Forget about people who want to carry their own weapons concealed. Absolutely ridiculous. If you want to be a cop, go be a cop.

  • Dan Syme says:

    Nope, I’m glad that you didn’t keep your opinion to yourself. Your opinion needed to be heard. Just because we have a constitutional right to do something does not mean that it is always expedient to do it. In 28 years as a street medic I cannot think of a single time when carrying a gun would have made a call safer but there have been many times when the sight of a firearm on my person could have made a difficult situation go sideways. I am thankful that much of the time local law enforcement get on scene before I do.

    • Michael Morse says:

      Thanks Dan, I think I might have posted this looking for a reaction, and knowing what I was getting into. In the big picture it probably was the right thing to do. 24 years in Providence, tons of violent incidents, gangs, shootouts you name it, not once did I wish I had a gun.

  • Nathan Dixon says:

    Self defense is a continuum, if your first and last line of defense involves a gun you’ve already lost. In the confines of an ambulance, it will devolve into a struggle. Most don’t know how to do violence to another. If your answer is a 3 hr self defense seminars. Make sure bad guys also attend so they know how to attack you.

  • Spencer Oliver says:

    Some tools are just not necessary for the tool belt.
    Some tools (like a gun) would generate a sh*t storm of trouble for EMS providers.

    Imagine you encounter a patient who is agitated and complaining of chest pain. No police are on scene as his complaint didn’t generate a LE response. But he’s not making much sense when your team is talking.They suddenly pulls a gun on providers. It’s a tense moment and one of the providers on scene shoots him. He ends up succumbing to his GSW and dies. Now the aftermath; the provider is interrogated and pulled from work and also pending criminal charges. His service (as well as the provider) is being sued by the patients family as they argue the patient had a mental illness and wasn’t in his right mind at the time. Suddenly things that weren’t ever even a factor at the time become a factor in the aftermath. “Was the shoot racist? Did that play a part? He must have hated people with mental illnesses.” There WILL be a lack of understanding from the public and a complete lack of understanding why there isn’t training mandated.

    Years of nightmarish problems will plague the provider, his family, and his service.
    There is no way this ends well for anyone

    Definitely have contingency plans for bad situations. But there are other tools and methods that would better serve our profession.

  • Peter says:

    I think the thought of doing harm to your pt is the wrong thought on this matter. More so protecting said pt. I am an infantry Marine and served in Afghanistan, our corpsman carried a rifle and fought next to us and fought to protect their pt friends, local nationals, and taliban alike. You want my drugs they are yours, you want my equipment take it, you want to attack my pt i will do and have done what it takes, within reason, to protect them.

  • Bryce says:

    Its a more complicated issue than people tend to give it credit for. My initial response is to agree that no medics should not be armed and instances are very rare in which anything would be helped by an armed medic. However there are frequently times when an already tense situation could be made a whole lot worse. However I have also been stuck behind completely insufficient cover and no where to go while being shot at on a call that had absolutely no indication that staging or PD were necessary. I legitimately believed I was going to die there and it was only luck that we made it out OK. Logic tells me that one time in thousands of calls over the past 12 years is insignificant, but it sure didn’t feel insignificant at the time. It’s easy to say “yes” medics should be armed until you actually have to take a life and the media ruins you(not even considering the criminal investigations and reviews). Or until a psych patient grabs the gun you though was concealed and secure while transporting. Its also easy to say “no” until you’ve been truly helpless and are left waiting to die. There are a lot of strong opinions and very valid points on both sides of the issue. In the end I don’t think there honestly is a right answer.

  • Michael Croucher says:

    I have read many comments and have been in some of these situations myself. The varied opinions are insightful for the most part. Unfortunately though , while violent crime is down overall, assaults on EMS providers is up all around the world. As are the numbers of psychiatric patients we transport on a daily basis. While I do not think we should be carrying a gun in the back of the squad we do need to explore other avenues of being able to protect ourselves while on the job. The cops can’t be with us on every trip and when it comes down to it, there are 2 of us in the squad and 1 is driving. The cops are there when we ask them to be in advance, especially if they call us but when we call them it’s another story. By that time it is usually too late and the damage is done. I guess what I am trying to say is that guns are not the answer for EMS but we sure as hell need something other than police riding along on every call, including transfers and the like, to lower our risk.

  • Ian says:

    Agreed. In almost every instance this is a bad idea. And the one where it isn’t – that someone baited you to a medical call to attack you – the chance that you can outdraw that intent is slim.

  • Mike says:

    Are attacks on EMS workers increasing or are the attacks just now reported more or made aware of because of social media? I’m guessing the later. EMS has abismal entry requirements, no real formal training at most places, and zero law enforcement training or training on the law period. Think of the guy at your service no one wants to work with. Now think of him with a gun. Many people enter EMS, well public safety in general, as damaged individuals. Is that a bad thing. Probably not. Do we now keep all those people out? The police force has strict entry requirements and back ground checks. Are we really ready to take that road for the sake of being able to carry a gun? I’m not, nor do I want the responsibility to make the decision to end the life of a person that called us for help.

  • Derek Leach says:

    The concept of arming civilian providers of Emergency Medical Care goes against the whole ethos of Preserve, Promote, Prevent. In a nation like the U.S. with it’s laughably lax gun laws, adding more guns to the situation isn’t going to improve things. As Mike so aptly put it, do you really want “That Guy” carrying a firearm? In any well Service, EMS personnel wouldn’t go within a bull’s roar of an active shooter situation. They would be sitting at a Safe Forward Point making witty observations and perhaps an occasional pithy comment while waiting to swoop in and be quietly awesome.

  • Colby kinsey says:

    Sounds kind of like why need a fire extinguisher when you have a fire department. Do I think all Ems should be armed l….no. But with the appropriate training why not. The statements made in this article say well we have a police department. Kind of sounds like why carry guns when you have police around. Find a more solid argument then what you gave here.

  • Gea says:

    I completely agree with you, Michael. Police and military go through extensive firearm training and they still make mistakes. If we were allowed to carry firearms on duty, what would our training be like? It’s hard enough to fit fire and EMS training into our schedules as it is, now add tactical shooting. And how would public perception change to us once a firefighter or paramedic shot one of their patients? I work in a violent territory, but to me it’s not worth it. I will rely on situational awareness and PD.

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