Proposed bill could allow EMS, firefighters to go armed on duty

A bill introduced in the Tennessee legislature would allow emergency medical responders and firefighters to carry handguns for their safety, but some emergency response leaders aren’t sure that’s such a good idea.

As written, the bill “authorizes any person employed as a firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT), that has received a written directive from their supervisor and completed an annual eight-hour firearm training, to carry a handgun while engaged in the performance of the person’s official duties.”

But don’t expect to see any Washington County/Johnson City EMS medics walking onto a medical scene with a gun strapped to their side.

 “I have concerns, as well as our board,”  Chief Dan Wheeley said. “Our board has voted in opposition to the bill.”

Right now, the bill is in the Constitutional Protections & Sentencing Subcommittee for discussion on Wednesday. There would be no fiscal impact from the bill on the state, but those employees who are allowed to carry weapons would “incur increases in liability insurance premiums,” according to the Tennessee legislature website.

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Howenwald, introduced the bill in the Senate and Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, introduced the bill in the House along with several co-sponsors also signing on.

In the Senate, the bill was passed on first and second consideration and referred to the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 7.

In the House, the bill was first sent to the Judiciary Committee before being assigned to the Constitutional Protections & Sentencing Subcommittee.

According to the fiscal note posted on the legislature’s website, and based on information provided by the Department of Commerce and Insurance:

  • 7,773 career firefighters are currently employed in Tennessee.
  • Based on information provided by the Department of Health, there are currently 20,619 emergency medical service personnel with a certification license in good standing issued by the Board of Emergency Medical Services.
  • A total of 28,392 persons will be eligible statewide.
  • Any firefighter or EMT who seeks to carry a firearm while performing their duties will pay the cost associated with training to carry a firearm and the cost of obtaining any such firearm.
  • Because individuals will be responsible for such costs, there will be no fiscal impact to state or local government for training or firearm distribution.
  • Authorizing employees to carry a handgun during official duties will be at the discretion of each individual local department or unit.
  • Any increase in the number of handgun carry permits issued is estimated to be not significant.
  • County and municipal fire departments and EMT units will experience a substantial increase in liability insurance premiums, regardless of whether policies are held through self-insured or third party providers.

The idea behind the bill was apparently to provide protection to firefighters and EMS personnel when they respond to emergencies in rural areas where law enforcement response times are slower due to the distance required to arrive at a scene. 

Some concerns about the bill include how the weapon would be secured when firefighters are working a fire and would need to disarm themselves during that process.