Firefighter safety is a money problem

Training and adequate staffing can protect firefighters against ambushes

Training and adequate staffing can protect firefighters against ambushes

The one thing that post 9/11 air travel has taught us is that we can never be fully insulated from danger. Weapons have still made their way through security and onto planes.

It really comes down to what level of safety people are willing to pay for both in hard costs, like labor and materials, and soft costs, like disruptions in service.

If you've flown overseas since 2001, you've seen varying levels of security requirements to board airplanes depending upon which country you are in. I don't recall ever being asked to remove my shoes in European airports.

The recent hostage situation in Gwinnette County, Ga., and the ambush shootings in West Webster, N.Y. should unsettle all firefighters. Things can slip through the most sophisticated system, like Secret Service protection or TSA screenings.

And firefighters and medics responding to calls haven't anything close to those levels of protection.

Chief Jim Schwartz, chairman of the terrorism and homeland security committee of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, told CNN that fire departments must communicate more with their police partners on how to handle scenarios such as the ones in Georgia and New York. Schwartz described firefighters' current training on operational security as "less than adequate."

Training firefighters and medics to recognize and diffuse potentially violent situations will cost money. And taking money out of the training budget for something that falls in the high-risk, low-frequency category could be a hard sell once these stories lose front-and-center prominence.

Another difference maker will be having enough fire personnel and law enforcement officers on each scene — not just those incidents that seem problematic. There is greater safety in numbers.

This, of course, is not conducive with staff reductions on either the fire or police side.

Fire department leaders will need to get local officials on board with beefed up security and training for fire and EMS personnel while the story from Georgia is fresh in their minds. They also will need to follow Chief Shwaratz's lead and begin integrating training with police counterparts.

We won't be able to prevent every act of violence against firefighters. But with proper staffing and training, we can reduce the likelihood and severity of those incidents.


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