Tragic Officer Involved Shooting of Off-Duty Firefighter- Lessons

Take something, anything you can, and learn from this tragic event.

I wrestled with even addressing this one. I was bombarded with questions about my “thoughts” on it. I would usually just reply with “tragic” so my words would not get turned around by mistake. So here is my attempt at addressing an incident that really bothered me -Kip

What this post is about will have nothing to do with right or wrong, reasonable or not, but the dynamics involved, and how they apply to various use-of-force incidents in medicine. No different than the reports of firefighters arrested on a crash scene for not moving a firetruck from a traffic lane…. no one wins if we merely take a side without researching the incident and work to prevent further incidents. The hope is we can learn from this tragic incident, something that can protect providers in the future.

There is nothing but tragedy for all involved with this situation. Everyone involved will be forever changed and scarred. We are using this video solely for training purposes and not to assign blame.  Law enforcement has used use-of-force incidents caught on camera for as long as I can remember as a training tool. While there are countless numbers of “fight” videos or law enforcement videos available on the internet, this incident is between a firefighter and a police officer, therefore it is relevant to our training purposes… because nothing is important to you until it is important to you.

We are all family in public service, period. This is because we see each other on the same scenes, deal with the same people etc. Our training is different, our focus is different, but we share so many similarities. Just ask any person who is cross-trained (Police officer/Paramedic or Police officer/Firefighter or Nurse/Medic etc) they will tell you how similar we are. There is a healthy- competitive rivalry between law enforcement and fire. We recognize this when we come together in various “Guns and Hoses” competitions (boxing, softball, basketball etc) to raise money for charities. Both are honored professions and have strong brotherhood ties. I believe that rivalry is what polarized so many so quickly before the investigation was complete…there was a visceral feeling for all involved in public service.

The posting of this video on DT4EMS is to show several points we discuss regularly, not only on our blog but in our actual classes across the country regarding the dynamics involved with the use-of-force.

Watch the news report and I will point out some things below below the video that have training relevance.


Would your perception about the incident change if the person shot was not a firefighter? What if it was not a cop, but a person a firefighter was called to deal with on the job, who fired the shot? It is the dynamics we want to pull out and try to learn from here, not just the title/job of the people involved.

I can recall this report when it first hit the news. Social media exploded about ” trigger happy cops” and it was immediately assumed (per their comments) the officer must have used excessive force. This immediately polarized sides between Fire and PD. The comments on the pro-fire side would have some officers stand their ground and write things like “just another douche-bag firefighter” . I observed similar comments on various EMS/Fire sites and I chose not to comment until now. There were however quite a few trying to calm each side down. Because again, we are all on the same side. The sooner we have cooperative training on the use of force and what each side can and can’t do on the job I truly believe the bond between Fire/EMS/LEO and ED staff will only strengthen.

DT4EMS is dedicated to the safety of EMS/Fire and ED staff regarding violence and the use-of-force on the job. This video, while not on-the-job specific for emergency medical staff, it does offer several key training points:

1) Intoxication changes behavior- (Even professionals) Consume a few (possibly too many) intoxicating beverages yourself and you understand this. Work the street or ED and you have an intimate knowledge of it. In the video above we know this was a professional firefighter who just left his wedding and a professional police officer working off-duty. Similar to when the intoxicated ADA attacked EMS the dynamics of human conflict can change rapidly when alcohol or drugs are involved, regardless of who the person is in their daily life when not intoxicated. In your career you have witnessed intoxicated “patients” change in the blink of an eye. They can go from crying one moment to yelling, screaming curse words the next.

From my law enforcement training and experience, like this video shows, it is understood a somewhat “simple contact” (this was over cab fare) can turn deadly. How this relates to us in EMS, Fire on the medical scene and staff in the ED is:

  • 52% of EMT’s/Paramedics assaulted on the job according to the NAEMT
  • 50% of nurses assaulted on the job according to the ENA.

This means there is a true lack of understanding/training for the use-of-force in medicine. Many of these incidents of assault on staff actually occur during an attempt to “restrain” someone.

Related: Drunk is Not Sick and the all too common You can either go with them to the hospital or go with me to jail”. 

2) No one man can control another man, unless he wants you to do so. I was taught that phrase in the police academy and it always stuck with me. This is why officers have “tools” on their belt for when empty hand fails or is not an option. An intoxicated or drugged individual may not feel “pain” so the use of or attempted us e of some sot of “pain-compliance” or joint manipulation usually proves ineffective. Hence the “tools” (OC Spray, Baton, Taser, Firearm) to get past the lack or depressed pain threshold.

Notice how once contact, “first touch”, was made…everything changed. We address the dangers of this in medicine, because here an officer is trying to take custody of a person and how quickly the situation escalated. In emergency medicine providers, with usually less than four hours of training, try to restrain an intoxicated or drugged individual. Once that first touch is made, no matter how slight, everything changes. Since, just like the officer, for medical staff, our job is not to “beat someone up”, but to do our job. The police officer was doing his job trying to take custody of a person suspected of a crime. In medicine we do not take custody, we are trying to offer care. Statistically in a use-of-force situation an officer or a healthcare provider is injured more often than the person they are using force on.

3) Use-of-Force Options– This speaks volumes here because so many commented on “why” the officer didn’t use a Taser. This is exactly why we have addressed the issue the way we have regarding the arming of EMS/Fire and ED staff for on-the-job carry. Armed EMS and the Surgical Cric and To Arm or Not to Arm. If there are no options between nothing and the firearm…

Assault Response

4) Self-Defense is Different Than a Fight. Police officers are not supposed to “fight”. In this video, the officer was trying to take custody. Tragically the firefighter went from defensive resistance (trying to get away) to an all out act of aggression (assault/attack). The lay person sometimes confuses self-defense with winning a fight. An officer does not fight on the job. He is either using force to take custody or using force to defend himself.

A fight requires to willing combatants. Ironically, many officers do not get a lot of training on self-defense. This is because it is their job to use actual acts of aggression (the taking custody of a person). It is not their job to back away from a person they are trying to take custody of. This differs for us in medicine, we should be backing away from a person who no longer wishes to be a “patient”. Too often providers remain connected physically or verbally with people they should be backing away from.
Most police uses of force are against resistance to the taking custody of a person, the majority of which are “defensive” in nature meaning the suspect is attempting to get away but is not actively attempting to assault the officer. Since that is the case, most of an officers training and experience has them best prepared for that type of use-of-force incident.

In contrast, the majority of assaults in medicine are acts of aggression toward the EMT, Medic or nurse. Two completely different situations that require different type of training.

On the street, no one really wins a fight.  In medicine we should never be in or brag about “fighting” on the job.



5) Preparation for the Battle of the Media. Imagine for a moment if there were no video of the incident above. The media would state, as is did, that an officer shot a firefighter on the way home from his wedding. That statement alone would have people on both sides making comments on social media without ever knowing what actually took place. This is why we say providers have to train in 4 specific areas when it comes to the use-of-force on the job.
When it comes to the use-of-force, you must be prepared for the fact everything you say or do just may be captured on video. That video may very well be shared on social media before you have time to write an incident report. This leads to being judged in the court of public opinion. Every action we make on the job in emergency medicine should start with good customer service in mind. While cheesy sounding, if you were using good verbal skills and physical skills that appear defensive, if caught on camera they will only serve to protect you if you have to later claim self-defense in both criminal and public opinion courts. Video can be a double edged sword so prepare accordingly.

While writing this blog, I recalled a specific incident I was a part of years ago as a new medic in south Florida. We were called to a report of an assault. The man was allegedly beaten and drug into a sugar cane field to die.

When my partner and I arrived there were not may people around. By the time we loaded the “patient” onto the spine board and almost made it to our ambulance…there were literally a hundred people there. They were screaming “You bring that mutha-fu$#a across the canal we gonna kill you to uh!” I looked at one of the three officers there and said “We need to get to our ambulance or this guy is gonna die” An officer responded “We can’t control this crowd”. With my lack of understanding at the time of use of force ( I wasn’t a police officer yet) I said “Bullsh!t, shoot two or three…they’ll move”.

I can recall being angry the officers wouldn’t do something to handle the situation the way I thought it should be handled. I could only base my opinion on previous training and experience. Some of which was probably movies or TV. Once I was formally trained and became a police officer, I had a new understanding of the dynamics of human conflict, the use-of-force on the job, custody/control and laws for when I could and could not touch someone. I then had my own paradigm shift in understanding what I could and could not do on the job as a paramedic regarding the use-of-force.



Take something, anything you can, and learn from this tragic event.