As city budgets become more strained, fire fighters are being asked to perform more responsibilities beyond their job description including deterring crime in communities.
Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray recently asked fire fighters to combat crime in the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast after a spate of recent shootings. Fire fighters are under orders to sit on the scene unless dispatched to an emergency from 10:00 pm until 2:00 am and efforts would continue until further notice from the city.
DC isn’t the only urban city to turn to fire fighters to take on security responsibilities for their communities.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel requested fire fighters to staff safe passage routes to provide school students added security as they walked to and from school. Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 president Thomas Ryan said fire fighters would accept any role they were asked to perform, but said fire fighters are not trained or equipped to deal with fighting crime. The plan to use fire fighters on patrol is the result of Chicago shutting down 54 public schools causing students to walk outside of their neighborhoods and at times crossing into rival gang territory. However, Chicago residents are still not satisfied with results after a 15-year-old girl was brutally attacked on the way to school right before Christmas.
“If something violent in nature were to break out people’s natural instinct is to run to someone in uniform for protection, but fire fighters are not trained or equipped to deal with those type of incidents,” Ryan said.
Patrolling the school routes has become an open-ended assignment for Chicago fire fighters.
In DC, fire fighters, police and social activists say fighting crime should be left to law enforcement officials.
DC fire fighters said the city’s request is nothing more than a public relations ploy and they fear for their safety.
In media reports, Edward Smith president of DC Fire Fighters Local 36, has said, "Not only are my members not trained as police officers, they are not properly equipped to handle police matters, yet could be called upon to become involved in various situations that place them in harm's way!”
The DC Fraternal Order of Police are also opposed to the use of fire fighters as law enforcement officers.
The issue created a stir on the IAFF Facebook page as fans discussed what role fire fighters and emergency medical personnel should play in their community.
Read some of the comments below:
“We had 4 guys shot, 2 fatally, on Christmas Eve last year not far from where I live and work. They were ambushed pulling up to a scene by a douche bag who served time for killing his grandmother...what happens when the gang bangers see that the DCFD are doing crime prevention details? Do you think they'll just ignore the vehicles and the empty stations that they're based out of, or cars in the lot? What happens when the city is sent the bill to fix a truck riddled with bullets, or has personnel with bullet wounds?”
“This is sad. If something actually happened, the firemen would have to call the police, same as the residents. This doesn't accomplish anything.”
“Everybody should look at their own state. And I know dc is different in funding, however this is the same attempts that have gone on in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana. It's not about crime stoppage, it's about what are you doing as fireman? And the guys in Washington DC are in on of the busiest firehouses in the country! Not to rant, but take a hard look at our next contracts and right to work and what politicians really want out of their firefighters and police officers.”
The Trinidad neighborhood has been plagued by violence over recent years. In 2008, police sealed off the neighborhood, setting up checkpoints and kicking out strangers in order to keep the crime down. In the summer 2011, DC fire fighters were dispatched late at night to patrol the neighborhood.
Also read: The wrong mission for D.C. firefighters an op-ed written by General President Harold Schaitberger for the Washington Post.