First responders: saving lives while saving their own

First responders: saving lives while saving their own (WKEF/WRGT)

MIAMI VALLEY (WKEF/WRGT) - They save our lives without hesitation.

Thousands of police, fire, and paramedics nationwide are sworn to serve and protect, but in the changing face of first response, they end up fighting to protect themselves.

May 1, William An, 36-year-old Dallas, TX paramedic, was shot twice on a call after a man opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle.

It's those stories that stick in the minds of the men and women who serve across the Miami Valley. The dangerous shift in first response is creating a shift in policies, as the crews who save our lives, worry about their own.

They get the call, and grab their gear. Fairborn firefighters are also packing something else.

"It's just as important now, as it is for when they throw their turnout gear on the rig," said City of Fairborn Fire Department Chief David Reichert. "They must have it with them."

Bright red ballistics vests and helmets are now part of the standard gear.

"I think the community understands," said Reichert. "Watch the news. It's a pretty good window into what's going on out there."

Fairborn initially ordered the extra protection ahead of a presidential debate expected at Wright State University. The debate was cancelled, but the department decided to make the protection permanent. Chief Reichert said it's a proactive response that could keep his crews alive in a new normal.

"This is a nationwide issue, across the country," Reichert said.

"A few years back, two New York firefighters were shot on a call after getting off," said Chief Jacob King with the Bethel Township Fire Department in Clark County. "Georgia where the firefighter were held hostage by a hostage taker, and that was just for a call for chest pain."

Years ago, Bethel Township was a topic of discussion. Chief King decided to allow crews to concealed carry, citing resources and police response time in a rural community. What was once controversial is now catching on.

"Recently, Texas just passed a law that says all first responders can conceal carry while they're on the job and responding," King said. "I know Kansas had a change to their concealed carry policy for all their members to carry weapons."

King said the threat was always there, it's just been managed over the years. Now, incidents are happening too often.

"There was one, they did Narcan resuscitation," King said. "Once the patient woke up, he pulled a weapon on the crews."

Concerns from area agencies landed on Aimee Maychack's desk. Maychack is the EMS Coordinator with Kettering, and also chairs a new committee, 'Response to Violence Against EMS' tasked with tracking violent encounters in the Miami Valley.

"From knives, to guns, to blunt objects, this could be something as simple as it was on the scene, it was laying on the table, or it was in the person's possession," Maychack said.

Right now, her team is studying a survey completed by nearly 150 responders. She said the initial findings are interesting.

"About 60 percent of those responders said they had been physically assaulted at some point in time," she said.

However, many departments have started, or have already, started to shift policies.

"90 percent of them state they feel safe on the job," Maychack added.

But, there's one area usually overlooked.

"Nurses have been choked and sexually assaulted, and their supervisors go, 'Hey, you just got to deal with it, that's part of it,'" said defense expert Kip Teitsort.

Teitsort founded DT4EMS, and travels nationwide to teach defense policy and techniques. He's pushing transparency, especially in hospitals where he said incidents get brushed off.

When Fox 45's Shavon Anderson talked with Teitsort, he just finished a conference in Jackson, TN.

"I was able to interview a girl who was stabbed 105 times while doing triage on a patient," Teitsort said.

The story made him emotional.

"I was angry because in all of the classes I was teaching, in Jackson where it happened, only one person in the first two classes had even heard it occurred."

Teitsort said confronting incidents, discussing them, and creating a plan, lowers the chance of it repeating. Even if they aren't getting guidance at their jobs, employees are taking safety into their own hands.

Jeff Brown owns the Brown Institute of Martial Arts, and said first responders will his classes. Nurses and doctors are getting in on the action, too. Brown spoke on one of his students.

"You'd be surprised how many times in the ER he's had to protect himself, and the other nurses and other doctors there," Brown said.

Different studios teach different life-saving techniques. Over at the Asian Arts Center Taekwondo School, Matt Pasquinilli has a specific focus.

"I teach them how to breathe without thinking about it," Pasquinilli said.

He said the job is all about fight, flight, or freeze.

"They face an environment all the time, where their adrenaline is pumping," he said.

Pasquinilli said the job is all about fight, flight, or freeze. By altering breathing and focusing on body awareness, it can offer a clearer head and calmer outcome. Those techniques are transferring to training in Springfield.

"I have you grabbing here right," said Lt. Bart Berner, during a demonstration. "I can pull, and I can twist, and this gives me a chance to escape and move away from danger.

Berner, with the Springfield Fire and Rescue Division, has been practicing martial arts for nearly 20 years, now lending his skills to the department.

"A small number of incidents, we look towards being able to defend against grabs or punches," Berner said.

But, he believes the physical is a last resort. Instead, the department is garnering a stronger partnership with police, eliminating potentially violent encounters before they happen.

"We can get them there ahead of time, if we need to make sure the scene is safe," Berner said. "Then also, if we're already on scene, if we call for them, we know that they can usually be there within a couple minutes."

They're relying on a three-step approach: Avoid, Evade, Defend. Berner shakes off the need for ballistics equipment or weapons, but he doesn't ignore the facts, and the changing face of first response.

"We're looking probably sometime in the next year, looking at some of the physical skill sets," he added.

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