From time to time, fire departments respond to incidents, which appear to be routine, but firefighters end up encountering violent individuals. One such incident happened in Missouri City in the fall of 2010. The firefighters from Station 1 were scheduled for a smoke detector battery change at a residence. Upon arrival at the home, firefighters heard some people yelling. As they approached the door, the verbal altercation became a physical domestic dispute. Per department policy, the firefighters backed out away from the house and around the corner to remain out of sight of the actors while requesting assistance from the police department. The police responded emergency traffic and quickly brought the situation under control.
Life Safety Initiative 12 recommends the following strategies designed to reduce the likelihood of injury or death from responding to violent incidents.
• Improved understanding and application of Dynamic Risk Management
• Initiate or improve communication with local law enforcement
• Define and expand the role of dispatchers in reducing risk
• Prohibit single person resource response to violent incidents
• De-commit personnel and equipment and leave if violence commences or reoccurs during fire department operations
• Obtain stakeholder understanding and buy-in of response and deployment policies including non-response and non-engagement at incidents of violence.
Every fire department should have policies in place for the response to incidents of violence. In addition, it is important to meet with the dispatch center to determine how firefighters can communicate they are involved in a potential or actual violent incident. For example, through meetings with our dispatch center, Missouri City Fire & Rescue developed a policy that is easy for the firefighters to use and a process the telecommunication operators were very familiar with. This policy provides a process if a firefighter is subject to violence during fire department operations.
Through open communication with the local law enforcement and the dispatch center, the fire department can develop or review policies related to violent incidents. Additionally, firefighters should review these policies on a regular basis in order to remain familiar with them if they are ever needed. Finally, by teaching firefighters to always expect the unexpected and how to respond appropriately, we can ensure everyone goes home.
Written by – Russell Sander, Fire Chief Missouri City Fire & Rescue Services