Tactical paramedics should be allowed to carry firearms, Ohio fire chief says

The fire department is seeking permission from city council to arm paramedics who assist the SWAT team


George W. Davis, For the Beacon Journal
Akron Beacon Journal

GREEN, Ohio — Since 1998, the city's fire department has had a tactical paramedic team that assists the Summit County sheriff's SWAT team whenever called.

With a 2018 change in state law, the nine members on the team and Fire Chief Jeff Funai are hoping that next month City Council will OK the paramedics to be armed during such calls.

Green Fire Lt. Michael Mohr carries the gear he wears when working as a tactical paramedic for the SWAT team. (Photo/Mike Cardew, Beacon Journal)
Green Fire Lt. Michael Mohr carries the gear he wears when working as a tactical paramedic for the SWAT team. (Photo/Mike Cardew, Beacon Journal)

The council approval could come Feb. 11 or Feb. 25. Team members have paid for their own 9 mm semiautomatic weapons, which Funai repeatedly stressed, would never be carried by Green paramedics when responding to routine medical calls, just on SWAT emergencies. The handguns would allow team members to protect themselves when needed.

Funai noted that Green isn't the only community in the region with specially trained paramedic teams working with SWAT units.

Cuyahoga Falls has paramedics who assist SWAT teams as do Barberton, Kent, Akron, Norton and Metro SWAT, among others. Not all are armed when aiding SWAT units. Some departments are considering adding firearms training under the current law.

"Because of our close relationship with the sheriff's department, which provides law enforcement in Green and across Summit County," Funai said, "the sheriff was looking for medical support for his SWAT team in 1998 so we started supplying paramedics to go with SWAT. We had eight to 10 paramedics qualified to assist SWAT."

Capt. Kris Gent, who heads the tactical medic team, said, "Anything with SWAT happening immediately, tactical team members on duty would handle that. If it is something scheduled like a drug raid, typically we would send off-duty guys so we don't upset the number of guys dedicated for fire and EMS."

He said the city tries to send three tactical paramedics when called. The minimum is two.

A sheriff's-owned vehicle, a former ambulance no longer certified for patient transport, is used to move the team members and equipment.

"This is something we have been interested in doing for a long time," Funai said, referring to arming tactical paramedics, who for years have been outfitted with bulletproof vests and ballistic helmets when called by SWAT.

"The problem was always finding the right path forward," he said. "It's the state law that has made it easier for everything to line up."

Members of the team took the required 40 hours of firearms training in December through the University of Akron Police Academy and then an eight-hour scenario-based decision-making course at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London, Ohio. The training was established by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission.

Members must be recertified annually for weapon proficiency.

"The twist is we have not changed the role of the tactical paramedics since we started this in 1998," Funai said. "They approach the scene with the SWAT team, approach the house with SWAT members and stay at the door outside until they enter on orders from the SWAT commander in charge of the scene.

"The tactical paramedics are just another tool in the SWAT commander's toolbox to accomplish the mission."

Gent said the team's primary role is medical support for the SWAT team. The secondary role is medical support for others including injured suspects and hostages.

"The additional firearm isn't going to change that role," Gent stressed. "It's kind of a misconception that because we soon could have an opportunity to carry a firearm that we are going to do law enforcement operations and that's not true. We are staying medical.

"The purpose of the firearm is solely for self-defense and the defense of our patients should we have to defend them," he continued. "The SWAT operators' primary responsibility for us is our protection."

Gent said SWAT does a great job of protecting the paramedics, but if the SWAT officers come under fire, the weapons are a way for the emergency medical personnel to defend themselves if required.

Weapons will be kept in locked gun lockers being installed in all three Green fire stations. Only team members will have keys.

Lt. Michael Mohr has 32 years of fire experience, including 13 years with the Canton Township Fire Department. He's been with Green since 2001 and a tactical paramedic since 2007.

"We have been pushing for this for years," Mohr said. "I'm all for it. To have that added piece of security to defend yourself, if necessary, is good."

"We hope all this [new] stuff collects dust," Gent said.

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©2020 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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