Bills would allow firefighters, medics to carry guns on duty

FILE - Generic - Round Rock Fire Department fire truck (KXAN File Photo/Ed Zavala)
FILE - Round Rock Fire Department fire truck (KXAN File Photo/Ed Zavala)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Firefighters and medics could soon respond to 911 calls in Texas armed with a handgun, under proposed legislation in the State House.

Lawmakers filed a few bills that would allow firefighters and Emergency Medical Services to carry a handgun while on duty, if they have a permit to do so.

Captain Rick Rutledge said Austin-Travis County EMS crews are often first to arrive on scene. “You never really know what you’re getting into,” Rutledge said, “There are certainly risks.”

State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, wants first responders, who are licensed to carry, to be able to do so on the job.

Currently, there is no state law that addresses this issue, policies are set at the local level and vary by location. “You need to be able to exercise your Second Amendment right,” Flynn said. The legislation looks to give first responders the authority to exercise that right, Flynn said, “To protect themselves because they do go into harm’s way often.”

House Bill 435 would also allow volunteers for emergency services to be armed. The statewide proposals do not require any additional training for first responders who are licensed to carry.

“You have to assume it’s like a driver’s license,” Flynn said. “You know how to drive before you get a license, you know how to shoot a gun before you get a license.”

Cpt. Rutledge said ATCEMS questioned how safe it is to have medics arrive on the scene of what are often tense and unpredictable situations with a firearm and no police training.

“Protecting that weapon, limiting liability, knowing when to use and not use that. It is a specialized area and a course of training that we haven’t had,” Rutledge said.

The State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas (SFFMA) echoed similar concerns. “We are not trained in law enforcement,” said Chris Barron, the executive director of SFFMA and chief of the Manchaca Volunteer Fire Department in Travis County.

If needed, police are usually already on scene or close by, Barron said, but that’s not always the case in rural areas of the state. “They go to a simple grass fire call and next you thing you know they’re being threatened and they are calling for law enforcement and they are a long ways off sometimes,” said Barron.

He added that’s why he believes firearm policies for fire responders are best determined at the local level. “I don’t think there is enough substantial evidence to prove that firefighters should be carrying,” Barron said.

State Rep. Flynn cited “hostility towards first responders” as the reason for the bill. “What we’re finding out is often, someone will setup an attack, they’ll set up a fire just to go after people that they don’t like,” Flynn said.

House Bill 435 would also protect first responders from lawsuits if they fire a gun while on duty. Barron questioned what would happen if a firefighter accidentally carried a gun into a fire while Rutledge asked about a patient grabbing a paramedic’s firearm while in the back of an ambulance.

“You cannot manage weapon effectively and still manage all the medical gear and equipment and things we need to do so our belief at this time is that it’s not something that fits here,” Rutledge said.

Flynn said all of the state’s first responders should have the right to protect themselves no matter where they live.

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