Street smarts: How a retired chief teaches responders to protect themselves on calls

Retired Fire Chief Howard Munding trains firefighters and EMS providers in Krav Maga so they have the skills to protect themselves when violence strikes


By Shelbie Watts, Editorial Assistant

When retired veteran Fire Chief Howard Munding wrote an 83-page research paper about attacks on first responders in 2006, he estimated that 700,000 assaults on firefighters and EMS providers occur each year.

“We all have the stories,” Munding said, adding that the assaults are the “dirty little secret no one wants to talk about” in the fire service.

Street Smart EMS founder and retired Fire Chief Howard Munding shows off some Krav Maga self-defense tactics. (Photo/Street Smart EMS)
Street Smart EMS founder and retired Fire Chief Howard Munding shows off some Krav Maga self-defense tactics. (Photo/Street Smart EMS)

Munding, who also owns a martial arts school, decided to bring light to the issue by utilizing his background (he’s a sixth-degree black belt in the Chuck Norris System and second-degree black belt in Krav Maga Force) to bring a uniform set of basic skills to first responders to keep them safe.

That’s when Street Smart EMS was born.

Bringing Krav Maga to first responders

Munding said that when he was writing his research paper, he found that a percentage of first responders were self-defense training on their own.

“You have guys going out learning karate, taekwondo, cage fighting and jujitsu, and they’re going to do whatever they think is best [in a violent situation],” he said. “If a department does not provide guidelines, the guys are going to do whatever they think they need to do, and as fire chief I have no control over that.”

Munding was determined to avoid a “free for all” situation and give his department a way to protect themselves from the onslaught of on-duty assaults without the risk of potential legal trouble.

“If you have some skills and knowledge, you’re less likely to use it because you have some confidence, you don’t feel threatened and you know you can deal with the situation,” he said.

A now-retired Munding helps to increase first responders’ knowledge of self-defense by offering Krav Maga training through his program, Street Smart EMS.

Training first responders to be “Street Smart”

Munding said the most important thing to teach first responders who go through his program is how to prevent violent situations from occurring in the first place.

During the lecture period of the program, Munding teaches participants to “read the environment” when coming on a scene.

Howard Munding teaches violence prevention to a class. (Photo/Street Smart EMS)
Howard Munding teaches violence prevention to a class. (Photo/Street Smart EMS)

“Look at your surroundings. Does is look like there are signs of alcohol or drug abuse? Do you see signs of violence?” he said.

Munding also teaches not to park fire department vehicles directly in front of the house, and highlighted an incident where a firefighter was shot and killed in St. Louis after pulling up in front of a house while responding to a reported vehicle fire.

“When people call 911, they know we are coming,” he said. “It’s bad we have to think about it this way, but if they have ulterior motives, they’re waiting for us to come.”

Hands-on skills

Krav Maga is an Israeli self-defense system that aims “to answer the need for a practical and simple way of self-defense, particularly for security and law enforcement personnel … wanting to learn fast and practical skills against any type of assault,” according to the system’s mission statement.

First responders going through Munding’s course learn how to assist a patient carefully, and how to defend themselves in case the patient turns violent.

First responders going through Munding’s course learn how to assist a patient carefully, and how to defend themselves in case the patient turns violent. (Photo/Street Smart EMS)
First responders going through Munding’s course learn how to assist a patient carefully, and how to defend themselves in case the patient turns violent. (Photo/Street Smart EMS)

“One of my guys was doing exactly what I showed him [in the course] and escorting his patient to the gurney, when the kid decided to throw a punch at my guy,” Munding said. “He used the escort technique that I showed him, was able to get the guy onto the gurney and no one else was hurt.”

Participants learn how to handle chokes, grabs and other violent acts in a way that causes the least amount of harm to the other person.

“We don’t want to annihilate grandpa,” Munding joked. “There are ways to get out of grabs that will protect you and protect the patient. These simple little skills will give them the confidence to take care of issues.”

Krav Maga and ‘reasonable force’

When teaching this art to first responders, Munding makes sure to clarify what “reasonable force” means.

“Everything we do is on camera,” he said. “Our standing orders say, ‘Restrain the patient using a reasonable amount of force and watch out for your safety,’ but that’s all it says. It doesn’t tell you how to do it.”

Munding said he stresses to participants that they need to understand their state laws before creating a plan of self-defense.

Another important factor when it comes to self-defense is making sure everything is documented.

“You’ve got to do the paperwork,” he said. “This isn’t the time to try and use as few words as possible to chart this call; you need to write a book.”

He recommends creating a “use of force” form with a checklist of different factors to make sure a violent incident is fully-documented, which will protect departments down the road, as well as provide justification for instances such as purchasing body armor.

To find out more about Street Smart EMS and Howard Munding, click here

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