Rapid Response: Non-law enforcement first responders as a target for violence
Firefighters being shot and killed in the line of duty is counterintuitive and can’t be treated as normal
By Chief Marc Bashoor
With agonizing grief, we watched as Long Beach Fire Department Chief Mike DuRee faced the numbing responsibility of announcing yet another senseless firefighter shooting fatality; the line-of-duty death of 17-year LBFD Captain David Rosa.
Adding to the list of firefighters, EMTs and paramedics shot and killed in the line of duty is something we should never hear of. Non-law enforcement first responders being shot and killed in the line of duty is counterintuitive thinking. It can truly be said, “this isn’t what we signed up for.”
Regardless of whether we signed up for it or not, we’re dealing with it, and will likely deal with it again. Look at the following fatal shooting line-of-duty deaths:
- Two Kansas City EMTs were shot and killed in 2004.
- A Missouri firefighter-paramedic was shot and killed on a fire run in 2008.
- Four firefighters were shot, two fatally, in western N.Y. in 2012.
- An Arkansas volunteer firefighter shot and killed on an EMS run in 2016.
- A Pennsylvania junior volunteer firefighter was shot and killed at a fire station in 2016.
- Prince George’s County, Md., firefighter-paramedic John “Skillet” Ulmschneider was shot and killed in 2016.
What happened: At the time of this writing, media has reported the arrest of a 77-year-old building occupant, who has been charged in Captain Rosa’s death. This incident also left firefighter Ernesto Torres injured; and colleagues, friends and families at a loss for words, struggling to offer compassion.
This loss will stress and test the Long Beach Fire Department in ways they have only now begun to understand.
Top takeaways on fatal firefighter shooting
Here are my takeaways from this tragic incident:
1. A firefighter shot and killed in the line of duty is not normal
The Long Beach Fire Department and Chief DuRee need the support of every one of us as the department grieves, while simultaneously beginning the process of investigation and recovery. A firefighter shot and killed on duty is not “just another call,” and cannot be treated as such.
2. Losing a firefighter in the line of duty is personal
I carry personal professional scars of John “Skillet” Ulmschneider’s death under my watch – I will always consider his wife and daughter Abigail as part of my family; indeed, Abigail as my own. One of the memorials our staff made to help in our recovery process is an actual simple skillet, emblazoned with Skillet’s identification number and his drink of choice. My skillet hangs proudly on my office wall in Florida, while Skillet and his family remain in my heart.
3. Continue to review protocols and safety measures
As you discuss this incident, grieve, and offer your thoughts and prayers, please use this as a learning opportunity for you and your department. Without knowing anything else at this point, and whether details emerge quickly or not, there are plenty of standard takeaways for you to examine and review in your department now and after every major incident of this type:
- Standard operating and staffing procedures.
- Ballistic garment protocols.
- Situational awareness.
- Active shooter and law enforcement engagement protocols.
- Significant injury and LODD protocols in place in your agency.
What happens next: Please continue to keep our brothers and sisters in Long Beach, Calif., in your thoughts, prayers and hearts as they deal with and process Captain Rosa’s death. Take this moment to consider your responses and capacity to recover. As the investigation unfolds, it is my hope we will all have the opportunity to learn and improve our posture moving forward.