There are at least three proposals before Texas state lawmakers that would make it so first responders – firefighters and paramedics – could carry firearms on the job.
A public hearing on House Bill 56 was held at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
HB 56, like the others, would allow properly-licensed first responders to carry a handgun while doing their duties. Currently, state law does not address this issue and it is instead a decision that is made at the local level.
Medstar Mobile Healthcare, the ambulance service for 15 North Texas cities, has a policy that prohibits its employees from carrying handguns on the job.
For his part, Grayson Sterrett, a Medstar paramedic, would not want to even if he could.
“I can’t think of a time where I’ve ever felt, or I’ve ever been on a call where I felt the need to have a gun,” Sterrett said.
There may be others who have a different opinion, and perhaps with good reason.
Two Medstar paramedics were in the line of fire on a September 2016 call in Fort Worth. The paramedics, as well as members of the Fort Worth Police Department, were fired upon while responding to a call about a suicidal person.
Two Fort Worth officers – Ray Azucena and Xavier Serrano – were shot in the incident and have each since recovered from their wounds.
The Medstar paramedics, who initially evacuated the area when the shooting began, made the decision to go back into danger to pull the police officers to safety.
“Their sole purpose was to get in, get the injured officers and get out,” said Medstar spokesperson Matt Zavadsky. “We don’t want them involved in the protection of the scene. We want them involved in treating and evacuating the injured.”
Zavadsky said Medstar, which responds to approximately 140,000 emergency calls each year, is officially neutral on the issue of paramedics carrying firearms.
The primary consideration for first responders, according to Zavadsky, should be weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks.
“If we’re gonna have this option, can we do it safely?” Zavadsky said.
The Fort Worth Fire Department has asked the same question and, like Medstar, is reticent to come down on either side.
A FWFD representative shared the official position statement on HB 982, which is similar to HB 56.
“It is not the mission of the Fire Department to routinely perform law enforcement duties,” the statement began. “Allowing firefighters to carry firearms in the performance of their duties would hamper our ability to effectively perform our sworn duty. We respond to fires, medical calls and other emergencies where carrying a firearm would be dangerous and distracting to firefighters and the citizens we serve.”
Similarly, a representative of the Texas Fire Chiefs Association testified at Tuesday’s public hearing on HB 56 that his organization is interested to work with lawmakers as the bill moves forward, but that there are many questions regarding safety, liability and responsibility that need to be answered.