Trending Topics

Fire and EMS takeaways from the Dallas shooting

The Dallas shooting brings home some horrifying realities for firefighters and medics


I was driving to the fire station to respond to a medical call when I learned of the ambush murder of five Dallas police officers at the conclusion of a peaceful protest last night. Hearing it on the radio left me numb and, as President Obama said, horrified.

Bystander videos showing the officers being gunned down is an emotional gut punch. It hurts to see any public servant taken down like that; it hurts to think of their suffering and the loss their loved ones feel.

I was just as horrified watching bystander videos from earlier this week of two separate instances where police shot and killed suspects. The circumstances surrounding those shootings are unclear and the subject of investigations. Yet, as one sworn to save life and property, I’m deeply troubled by those killings.

This tsunami of civil unrest — of civilians vs. police — defies easy-fix solutions and is beyond the fire service’s capability to stop its progress. Yet there are things we can do to take some of the punch out of this wave, and there are good reasons for doing so.

This is important to firefighters because we are almost always on scene with police for protest events where violence can erupt or for large gatherings like the Boston Marathon that are prime targets for acts of terrorism.

And of course we cannot forget our own most recent ambush tragedy where a gunman in West Webster, N.Y. set fire to his house to draw in firefighters while he laid in wait with a high-powered rifle, a shotgun and a pistol. There, two firefighters were killed and two were injured on that 2012 Christmas Eve.

Again, the fire service cannot singlehandedly fix the racial and political rifts in this country that fuel attacks like the one in Dallas any more than we can fix the international issues that bring terrorists to our soil. However, we can do our part to mitigate these issues by being at the top of our game. Here are three things we can do every day.

1. Don’t react
An immediate step is to not react to these situations in ways that further fan the flames of unrest. The Washington D.C. firefighter who took to Facebook to vent his anger and frustration that a black man was killed by white police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana did not help the situation.

Firefighters are human and the killings over the past few days will stir great emotions in all of us no matter our racial, religious or political makeup. But like it or not, firefighters are held to a higher standard than civilians — and that’s especially true when it comes to on- and off-duty behavior and the exercise of free speech.

What that means is we must know the difference between reacting emotionally and responding responsibly — and having the self-discipline to act accordingly regardless of heightened emotions.

2. Be equal
In addition to controlling our reactions, we can help diffuse the situation by how we interact with the public on every call. It is imperative that we treat each person we come into contact with with dignity and respect.

The human brain has an evolutionary holdover survival skill where it quickly decides if a person is friend or foe. This happens in the blink of an eye and we have no conscious control over it.

We can control what we do next.

Recognize your own biases and be aware of those on every medical run, car crash or house fire where you encounter people. Be deliberate in treating these people as you would a friend or family member.

One method is to find something in the individual you are biased against that is positive — he may be the same age as your child or nephew, she may wear the same style clothing as your mother — and focus on that. If you have to fake it until you make it, then fake it. Make their impression of your fire and EMS service a positive one.

3. Be aware
Anyone who’s been to an event involving the president or vice president knows how much energy goes into protecting one person from harm. There is simply no way every scene we arrive at can be secured against every possible threat.

We don’t know when or where, but there will be other ambushes like West Webster and Dallas.

On scene, it means keeping your head on a swivel and your eyes peeled. As you arrive and during the incident, keep watch for things that appear out of the ordinary — here, your brain’s survival skills can be trusted.

Individual firefighters need to mentally run through what to do if it all hits the fan. Fire departments need to run through training scenarios for when scenes go bad.

We are living in very difficult times and firefighters often find themselves on the front lines. Do your part to calm these horrific times — it is your sworn duty.

Rick Markley is the former editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s of fine arts. He has logged more than 15 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at