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Rapid response: Lessons from a cop-on-medic attack

In a tense and fluid situation, responders who lose sight of the primary objective put everyone at risk


What we know: The Portsmouth (Ohio) Fire Department responded to a medical call with a private ambulance crew and police at about 1 a.m. Sunday. The patient was an apparently intoxicated male surrounded by a group of onlookers. Police chased at least one person who fled on foot.

During treatment, the patient became increasingly combative and the onlookers increasingly close and unruly. An after-incident report said that one of the medics called for police to use his TASER on the patient.

A paramedic from the private ambulance company had apparently not heard that request and began yelling at the police officer. The officer grabbed the medic by the neck and pushed him across the street and into a parked car.

This was all caught on a police officer’s body camera — six of the 20-minute video was released.

Why it matters: The bodycam video went viral and triggered a strong backlash against the police officer who used force against the paramedic. Police and fire department leaders showed local media the full 20-minute video and had a unified voice that neither party was at fault and that miscommunication escalated the situation — the commenting public isn’t buying that explanation.

Top takeaways

1. Know who’s in command

This is no different than the recent fireground altercation in Indiana between a police officer and a fire chief that resulted in the chief’s arrest. Everybody needs to know who runs a scene before they get there. That applies to the private ambulance companies. If the rule is that the paramedic is in charge of EMS calls, fire and police need to defer leadership.

This situation entered a gray area when the patient became combative and a threat to first responders — making it a police situation. That’s further complicated when medics from a private ambulance company may not work as closely with police as do members of the fire department. So that sharing or transferring of patient/perpetrator control also needs to be mapped out in advance.

In short, train together for these scenarios.

2. Bodies matter

The altercation, no matter how brief, took two people off their jobs — the paramedic and the police officer. And that’s not good for the patient, the public or the other first responders on scene. Thankfully, there were a lot of responders on scene to pick up the slack.

There were enough firefighters to restrain and secure the patient to the cot. And there were enough police to keep the onlookers out of the way — although this probably could have been done better.

When the citizen gripes about too many rigs sent or the firefighters grumble about having to run “B.S.” calls, this is your answer. We never know when a call is going to go wrong and it’s much easier to return resources to quarters than call for immediate back up.

3. Learn to de-escalate

If you are a chief or a training officer, there’s good reason to introduce police-style de-escalation training to your department. This isn’t simply a cop problem. Remember the medic who went off on the citizen journalist that was recording their airlifting of a patient?

We all know firefighters and medics who seem to have a golden touch when it comes to the public — they can talk anybody into doing anything. We also know that person who loses it when things get tense, and it may be the face staring back at you in the mirror.

Although the police officer in this situation seemed to go overboard in confronting the medic, there’s a lot we can learn from police de-escalation tactics. And having local police teach it to their firefighter brothers and sisters may help build the camaraderie between us that prevent such on-scene flare ups.

Here’s some further reading:

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