Okla. fire officials want to carry firearms on duty

Fire investigators said they want to be equipped with firearms while conducting investigations

By James Beaty
McAlester News-Capital

MCALESTER, Okla. — Investigators with the McAlester Fire Department want to carry handguns with them while going about their duties — but McAlester city councilors were not quite ready to pull the trigger on the proposal when it came before them.

McAlester Fire Chief Brett Brewer said Thursday that he and Assistant Fire Chief Toby Jensen want to carry the handguns, since they, along with Fire Marshall Bobby Tucker, are official fire investigators.

“We’re all out in the field all hours of the day and night; sometimes we’re knocking on doors,” Brewer said. “Sometimes you’re on the road and it will be 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Brewer said he thinks it will be safer if all of the city’s fire investigators are armed.

“The fire marshal already carries a gun,” Brewer said. Plans are for Brewer and Jensen to carry weapons as well.

Asked if he’s ever felt the need for a weapon while conducting a fire investigation, Brewer said “There have been incidents when it might have been better to have one.” Brewer said that doesn’t necessarily mean he would have needed to use it.

Sometimes the presence of a gun can be a deterrent, he said.

Brewer confirmed that he wasn’t making a request to carry a rifle in the fire department vehicles.

“We’re talking about handguns,” he said.

McAlester city councilors considered a request on March 14 to allow the fire department to use funds from the city’s portion of the Pittsburg County quarter-cent sales tax which voters passed to benefit all of the fire departments in the county.

Only McAlester Mayor John Browne, Vice Mayor/Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr, Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith and Ward 2 Councilor Cully Stevens attended the meeting. That barely gave the seven-member city council panel a four-member quorum.

The matter came before city councilors in the form of a request for approval to purchase the guns using money from the McAlester Fire Department’s portion of the quarter-cent sales tax.

Although an exact amount was not included on the agenda entry, the fire department obtained two local bids for the weapons, night sights and holsters for the three fire department investigators — both of which came in at more than $1,900 total to outfit all three individuals.

Brewer said Thursday that he was busy fighting a fire during the March 14 meeting, so he wasn’t able to attend it and answer questions regarding any concerns from the city council.

Once the matter came before the council, questions arose as to any city liability that might be in place in case one of the firefighters ended up shooting someone, which led to a suggestion that the three should receive training from CLEET, which is the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training.

City Manager Pete Stasiak supported the fire department investigators’ request to arm themselves.

“During investigations they sometimes find themselves in precarious situations,” he said. “They are not carrying firearms on their hip,” Stasiak said, saying weapons would be left in the vehicles.

However, the fire department obtained bids for the costs of the guns, night sights — and holsters, which are obviously used for carrying guns on the hip or somewhere else on an individual’s person.

In the end, the city council decided to postpone action on the measure, as opposed to tabling it. If it had been tabled, the measure would have been on-track to automatically be placed on the next regular meeting of the city council.

“I would rather have it postponed,” Stasiak said, to give the city more time to obtain some needed information.

However, concerns about what type of training the firefighters should have before the city council decides whether to approve the firearms purchases may prove to be a moot point.

Brewer said Thursday that he, Assistant Cheif Jensen and Fire Marshall Tucker are all already CLEET-certified, with the same training that law enforcement officers have.

Copyright 2017 the McAlester News-Capital

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