Rapid Response: Fatal shooting shows growing potential for violence on the fireground
A Long Beach Fire Department (Calif.) fire captain was killed and another firefighter and civilian were injured in a shooting
By Robert Avsec
On June 25, 2018, a Long Beach (Calif.) Fire Department captain was killed, and a firefighter was wounded when an unknown assailant shot them as they searched for the source of an explosion at a local retirement community. The fire captain, a veteran of the department with 17 years on the job, was transported to a local hospital, where he later succumbed to his wounds.
The wounded firefighter was also transported to the hospital where he was listed in stable condition. A third victim, a civilian, was also being treated at the hospital and was expected to survive according to a Long Beach Police Department spokesperson as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
What happened: Members of the Long Beach Fire Department responded to a reported explosion and fire at Covenant Manor, an 11-story high-rise for senior living in the downtown area of Long Beach at 3:49 a.m., PST. The incident was initially reported to authorities as some type of explosion at Covenant Manor.
The first report from the scene stated that some windows were blown out and building occupants were reporting the smell of gasoline. After extinguishing the remaining fire, fire crews were investigating to determine the source of the smell when the fire captain and firefighter were shot at approximately 4:08 a.m., PST.
Why it's significant: Every emergency response by firefighters and other public safety personnel is always a venture into the unknown. That unknown is becoming increasingly violent, particularly for law enforcement officers who have become the victims of violence, including ambushes, while responding to a call for service or even while sitting in their patrol vehicles.
Firefighters and EMS personnel are not immune to this threat. People in the U.S. are increasingly becoming disenchanted with government, starting with the federal government and extending down to the local level. A certain segment of the population may be motivated to take out their frustrations in the form of violence against “the system” (in the 1960s, such dissatisfaction was directed at “the man”).
Disgruntled citizens can’t get their mayor or council member or senator to come to them, but they can summon law enforcement, the fire department and EMS with one phone call. Or in this case, one explosion and fire that activated the fire sprinkler system. We must accept the fact that increasingly we are viewed not as the knights in shining armor coming to save the day, but rather as the proxy for government officials.
Key takeaways on fatal firefighter shooting
The scary part is that there’s not a great deal that we can do to prevent someone from taking a shot at us or targeting us with an IED. But what we can do is continually improve our abilities at sizing up situations and become better at non-linear thinking.
1. Include potential threat of violence against responders in exterior size-up
Initial reports indicated the presence of blown out windows, on what appeared to be a limited scale. Does this indicate an isolated explosion? What kinds of explosions could happen in the occupancy they were confronted with?
The building occupants also reported the smell of gasoline. Why would there be gasoline in a residential high-rise for senior living?
These two elements can mean one thing when evaluated separately, but perhaps something entirely different when evaluated together. Size-up has always meant gathering as much information as possible, as quickly as possible, and processing it as quickly as possible. This tragic incident serves to highlight the vital importance of exterior size-up for all situations.
2. Consider tactical fire training for law enforcement
It also brings forth another question; do we need to provide tactical training for law enforcement officers to enable them to work with firefighters in an IDLH?
Fire departments and EMS agencies are increasingly doing the opposite of this by training rescue task force medics to move into an active shooter incident right behind law enforcement.
Perhaps we need to look at having law enforcement officers who can suit up and provide cover for firefighters while those firefighters extinguish a suspicious fire or investigate one?
What's next: We’d be letting our fallen brothers down if we didn’t take some of the elements from this tragedy and learn from them, and make it harder for the next one to happen. The investigation into this tragedy is on-going, and hopefully more pertinent details will become available for analysis. In the meantime, fire departments should:
- Review their policies and SOGs for situations where violence is directed at fire department personnel.
- Review their training policies and SOGs for incident and risk assessment by its personnel.
- Work with their local law enforcement agencies to develop policies and SOGs that proactively promote integration of their mutual resources on the emergency scene.