9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Police, Fire, EMS: Are We Really Team Players?

Taken from Law Officer.com, October 21, 2013
Written by Scott Barker, he has 40 years in the first responder community, with service in the U.S. Army Military Police, in local police/sheriff's departments, as a volunteer firefighter, EMS provider and a 24-year career with the FBI.  More than 20 years of his FBI service involved tactical operations and training with FBI HRT and SWAT.  Contact him via email at devlyonassociates@gmail.com.

The simulated explosion is announced on the common radio frequency, and the dispatcher flawlessly assigns the responding law enforcement patrol units, multiple fire units and countless EMS providers.  A command post is immediately established, and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) is initiated.  Law enforcement merges seamlessly with fire units on the established perimeter as the EMS units are directed to the triage area, loaded and directed out by the most expeditious route.  The exercise is concluded, and the chiefs or directors of the first responder groups of police, fire and EMS take the microphone to announce how well everyone worked together and that this type of cooperation occurs daily.  But does it?

In reality, as the exercise is concluded, the different units who have been involved likely travel back to their stations and continue their secluded training and operations as they have in the past.

Cooperation Across Disciplines

We all realize the importance of a cooperative effort, but we seem to look at it only in terms of our particular profession.  It's important for us to look to others in our discipline for better ways of doing our jobs, but we consistently forget to reach across the barrier to our other brothers and sisters in the police, fire and EMS communities.  When was the last time you saw someone outside your particular discipline in one of your department's training classes?

I've been involved in the first responder field of all three disciplines for 40 years and could probably count on one hand the times I've seen a police officer in our fire training or, likewise, firefighters or EMTs in one of our police agency classes.

Healthy competition isn't a bad thing, and we have all heard the bantering between the services.  "God made police officers so firefighters could have heroes," or, "If you want to be liked, become a fireman."  I was taking firefighter certification testing and, knowing I was also in law enforcement, the instructor looked at me and said, "You will have two chances to pass this test, and if you fail, remember: There is no shame in being a police officer."  I won't even begin to mention the grief that police and fire give to their EMS brothers and sisters.

Almost all of our first responder dispatches involve at least two of these disciplines, and most of the time, all three.  Common dispatches include vehicle accidents, domestics, assaults, hazmat, clandestine labs, bomb threats, structure fires, search/rescue and tactical police operations.  I mention tactical operations last because this is an area in which common training has been the most effective.  The recent progression of Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS) has set the example for the cooperative first responder effort.  I spoke with an EMS director at a recent conference who said that assigning a small group of paramedics to support law enforcement SWAT operations has been the best thing for cooperation between EMS and the police department that he's seen in his career.  He said that this benefit extended past the joint operations to daily activities in which EMS providers and officers are now sharing information and working better together on regular calls.

I recently attended a Technology Institute course conducted by the National Institute of Justice where, during discussions, Louisiana State Police Major Mike Barnum made a great case for establishing relationships between disciplines.  He said, "The time of a crisis is not the time to start making acquaintances.  Relationships should be made and established prior to any major incident."  He attributed that jewel of wisdom to a mentor, but what was true 30 years ago remains true today.

One View

The public sees all of us as a group and, unfortunately, acts of violence are directed at firefighters and EMTs in addition to police officers.  Whether the threat is perceived or real, recent incidents of criminals targeting first responders require a much more coordinated response among fire, police and EMS, which can be achieved only by multi-discipline cooperation.

What can we do to bridge this gap?  The chief or director of a particular police, fire or EMS organization sets the tone of that group.  If you hold this position, you should look for ways to incorporate members of other disciplines in your daily training, briefings or operations.  You'll hear officers complaining about confidentiality, a lack of training credit or simply saying, "We don't work with them," but it's absolutely essential that you breach the barrier that often exists between first responder groups.

Regular contact across agency lines will significantly improve performance on daily bread-and-butter runs and significantly improve the service you provide your community.  Don't wait for someone else to make the first move, take the initiative, and engage now.  A time of crisis is no time for an introduction.

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