“This is not our parents’ Harford County, for that matter it isn't the Harford County we grew up in. I don't have exact numbers but, more often than not, you will hear crews being told to stage away until law enforcement can secure the area,” Gardiner wrote in an e-mail.

Certain protocols are followed for dispatching police, fire and emergency medical personnel to different situations, depending on the information the 911 dispatcher has.

“If an EMS call is known to be a dangerous/unsafe scene prior to dispatch, then law enforcement is also dispatched along with fire/EMS,” Gardiner wrote. “The fire/EMS units and personnel are advised to stage away from the scene until the scene is secured by law enforcement.”

Cross-monitoring of calls

Many times, Hopkins explained, deputies on patrol are cross-monitoring the fire and EMS radio channels and a deputy will often provide assistance to the extent possible, out of professional courtesy.

While crime has increased in Harford and fire and emergency medical responders are going into more and more potentially dangerous situations, police don’t need to be sent on every fire and medical call that is dispatched, Gardiner wrote.

“If you are asking should law enforcement respond on every fire/EMS incident in a certain area or areas, I don't believe we have reached that point yet,” Gardiner wrote.

It’s unclear how the ambulance was dispatched in Tuesday’s incident. The ambulance could have been sent to respond assuming it was a basic medical response call, with no indication the crew would encounter a hostile environment.

An EMS crew or fire crew never knows how an incident could escalate, Gardiner noted.

“The most benign call can turn bad at any time,” he wrote, explaining that fire and EMS personnel must maintain what they call “situational awareness.”

“They do this at all times and on every call,” he added.

Gardiner said numerous classes and seminars are offered by a variety of agencies on how to handle unexpected and dangerous situations that emergency responders could encounter.

Many of Harford’s emergency providers have attended these classes and learned how to understand and react to certain situations and be prepared for the others they can’t anticipate.

Armed EMS crews?

A post about Tuesday’s incident on the popular Harford Fire Blog Facebook page generated a number of comments, including one that said medic crews “should be armed.”

EMS crews carrying weapons, however, isn’t a good idea, Hopkins said, because the EMS crew members in general, unlike law enforcement officers, don’t have the requisite training, experience and supervision.

“An [police] officer knows, is cognizant of his surroundings and what to be on the lookout for,” Hopkins said.

A police officer’s main focus is public safety, whereas for an emergency medical responder, it’s to treat a victim, he explained.

“When they work in the field of public safety, EMS attention is distracted because their attention is on the patient,” Hopkins continued. “They may not be able to be totally aware of what’s going on around them in a hostile environment. Were they carrying a weapon, they could be distracted to the point that someone could steal it and then use it against them.

Being armed also brings into play other issues such as the possibility EMS personnel might shoot an assailant then end up having to treat that person.

Gardiner said the ambulance crew acted appropriately in Tuesday’s situation.

“Yes, this crew most certainly did the right thing for the situation presented to them,” he wrote. “Their personal safety comes first. They did what they were trained to do and also what instinct told them to do.”