AMU Fire & EMS Original Public Safety

Should Ambulance Crews Be Armed for Self-Defense?

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

Whether or not ambulance crews should carry weapons for self-defense continues to be a much-debated issue. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics commonly respond to 911 emergencies for individuals they often don’t know, which constitutes a security risk for those first responders.

In May 2022, for instance, CBS News noted that a New York EMT was shot by a patient being transported to a Staten Island hospital. Similarly, EMS World said that other EMS providers around the world have been assaulted on the job. In the U.S., these attacks are largely considered just “part of the job.”

Is It Time to Revisit What Risk Means for Ambulance Crews?

Risk is a concern that many elected officials and emergency managers should contemplate on a regular basis as they work to understand threats and create safety policies in their communities. Should the discussions about risk and security on ambulances be revisited again? It seems likely. 

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The attack on the New York EMT is an example of the safety debate that the first responder community has had for decades about their personnel. Some experts have questioned whether first responders should be armed at all, while others argue that providing EMTs and paramedics with weapons could create even more conflict and danger in tense situations.

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Risk Means Different Things to Different People

How each individual perceives risk varies from person to person. Some may discount or downplay the physical risk of responding to 911 calls, while others are intimidated by the possibility of an attack.

Elected leaders need to think about whether or not weapons should be provided to ambulance crews, but more importantly, they need to have discussions with EMS leadership in their respective areas to discuss the needs of their respective departments. Only through these discussions can risk management decisions be made in a constructive fashion. If they perceive the risks associated with unarmed EMTs and paramedics to be high, it might be necessary to cross-train their personnel to ensure proper safety in ambulances.

Allison G.S. Knox

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at the University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison works as an Intermittent Emergency Management Specialist in the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response. She also serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences, chair of Pi Gamma Mu’s Leadership Development Program and Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Paramedicine. Prior to teaching, Allison worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. She is an emergency medical technician and holds five master’s degrees.

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