Emergency Scene Violence: 6 Biggest Dangers You Face

Firefighters and medics need to know how to identify potental violence and how to react

Article by Lt. Dan Marcou from EMS1.com

Firefighting and EMS calls are challenging enough, when the problem is the fire, the patient’s condition, or an injury. The challenge and danger to the first responder can be complicated when the fire or rescue is not the problem, but merely a symptom of a problem. Here are some specific examples.

The dangerous individual

It is not uncommon for fire departments to be called to the scene of what has been described as a medical emergency only to discover they are also at the scene of a crime in progress, with no police yet dispatched.

When this occurs you need to have predetermined a radio code that tells your dispatcher there is trouble on scene and they need to dispatch law enforcement immediately. This code should be designed so that it can be used in front of, yet without alarming, a suspect. For example, “Contact Dalmatian one and tell them we are on scene.”

When a per­son con­spic­u­ously ignores you look out

When dealing with individuals, law enforcement personnel recognize certain early-warning signs of danger that fire, rescue or EMS crews also should heed.

When a person conspicuously ignores you look out.

Conversely, suspects who exhibit excessive emotional attention coupled with exaggerated movements could be adrenalized. A person who is adrenalized is preparing to fight or flee.

Use caution after observing these indicators especially if the suspect suddenly ceases all movement. This is often a precursor to an assault.

Another danger sign is anytime the suspect has a known violent history, because as the philosopher once said, “History repeats itself.”

Some pre-attack postures that should also set off alarms are when a person sets himself up in a boxer or fighting stance. Add tense facial muscles with fists clenched and you know you are navigating in dangerous waters.

Be able to identify the significance of a target glance. If law enforcement is on scene, the glance may be toward one of the officer’s weapons, a gun case, or an exit.

A very dangerous individual may possess the thousand-yard stare. Once you have seen it you know it forever.

In one instance, a police officer suddenly cut in front of two paramedics, who were assessing a bleeding suspect. The officer quickly took a suspect to the floor restrained and handcuffed him. The multiple indicators as well as the pre-attack postures had heightened the officer’s awareness, who had seen the suspect reaching for the knife.

Excited delirium

Some medical studies have identified a phenomenon alternately called “in custody death syndrome” and “excited delirium.” This is a condition where wild criminal actions of a suspect may be symptomatic of a medical emergency.

They per­ceive they are in immi­nent dan­ger of death and fight like it

In these cases the suspects seem to possess super-human strength and often appear oblivious to pain. Individuals suffering from this usually have torn all or many of their clothes off. This is because they feel incredibly hot.

They usually have drugs on them and speak incoherently. They perceive they are in imminent danger of death and fight like it.

After an exhaustive struggle, these individuals often just quietly die.

Studies continue and are revealing that TASERs, pepper spray, neck restraints, police and emergency personnel are not killing these people. Many are en route to death before emergency personnel are even dispatched.

This is a circumstance police and emergency personnel must prepare for as a team. It is important to get the suspect restrained as quickly as possible, with as little a struggle as possible. Medication to instantly calm them will help to prevent their fight to the death.

Crowds and civil unrest

Since crowds will be at the scene of most fires, it is important to be aware of the transitional steps a crowd may take. Most crowds will just stand and watch. Others may become dangerous, or may already be dangerous upon your arrival.

Crowds can fall into several broad categories:

  • The casual crowd just happens to be coming and going through an area.
  • The cohesive crowd has gathered for a shared purpose, such as the crowd that is watching firefighters fighting a fire.
  • The expressive crowd can be a good thing if they are cheering the rescue of a small child. It is potentially dangerous for police and fire if they begin to chant, “Let it Burn! Let it burn,” while encroaching on the scene.
  • The aggressive crowd is dangerous to everyone in its path. Usually individuals within the crowd lead the crowd down a violent and destructive path.

It is impor­tant to have law enforce­ment direct your units safely to the scene, as well as to standby while you fight the fire

During civil disturbances arson is a common symptom of the unrest, which is the actual problem. Firefighters and police should have scene-security plans in place for all crowd situations. The plan should include circumstances that would cause a crew to not respond or to disengage from a dangerous fire scene.

Firefighters are often sent to fires set during civil disturbances caused by aggressive crowds. Whether it is an impromptu park-bench-bonfire disturbance following a sporting event or arson fires that erupt like lights on an airport runway during major civil disturbances, fires are dangerous and need to be extinguished.

Responding fire units need to understand, however the fires are merely a symptom of the problem. The problem is the rioters, who started the fire. It is important to have law enforcement direct your units safely to the scene, as well as to standby while you fight the fire.

Otherwise the next day you may be watching your fire truck burn on the evening news.

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