“staging” as an appropriate tactic, you now have to make a difficult
decision on whether you will engage. For many well-intentioned
captains, it is difficult to tell the citizen that your crew is waiting.
The citizen will not understand, and if you remain steadfast in your
refusal, the citizen will either become angry or could try to bring the
“emergency” to you by carrying an injured person to your parked
apparatus. Inevitably, they will get what they want, and you will
have lost your intended safety control boundary. At the very least, a
staging location most certainly should be out of eyesight from the
reported incident. (Bear in mind, “out of sight” does not constitute
“safe”; nonetheless, it is a minimal consideration.)
THINK LIKE YOU ARE THE TARGET
Finally, “how” we stage is an intricacy that needs to be explored
and magnified. Again, unlike staging at a large-scale event where
there is no active violent threat in the area, in staging for potential
violence, violence is the concern and it could be anywhere. After
parking your apparatus, turn off all unnecessary illuminating factors.
Parking lights, overheads, and running lights can act as a “spotlight”
serving to reveal your position, uncloaking the veil of secrecy, telling
everyone where you are waiting. If not in an area that mandates
it (i.e., roadway), deactivate the noncritical visual signals. Again,
practice like you would play! Think of this scenario as a worst-case
possibility, and if your engine is the target that a violent person is
looking to attack, make it difficult for him to find.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING YOURSELF?
When staging, how often do you and your fellow crew members
actively look for the dangerous subject? Do you ask dispatch for a
physical and clothing description? (This is not just important information to provide police officers, but it is vital for all responders to
be aware.) Every person in the rig (fire and medics alike) should have
an idea of what the subject looks like so they can keep a 360-degree
safety awareness bubble. Do you request last believed course of
travel? If not, you should. You cannot assume the problem is isolated
to the call vicinity. Your capability of monitoring and ensuring your
team’s safety is paramount.
In addition, as you sit staged in the cab, unbuckle your seat
belt. The last thing you need is to be trapped in a closely confined
space if you do encounter a violent individual; the freedom to exit
quickly is not to be taken for granted. Please don’t get “hung up”
(pun intended) on the idea of being unbuckled in your seat! Once
the vehicle begins to move again, you can rebuckle. However, the
safety concern most certainly outweighs the unnecessary hindrance
associated with the vulnerability.
Also, it is pivotal that you as a company develop a quick code-word response, like bail or abandon, to signal to the group what
action they should take if a dangerous individual is approaching
or preparing to shoot a weapon in your direction. Paralysis occurs
when individuals do not know what to do or have not before
contemplated the possibility of harm. Inaction in a time of crisis
is unaffordable. If a crew can predesignate a preliminary blueprint, incorporating not only a fast exit from the engine but also a
retreating route (to the rear or to the front) and a meeting place to
regroup, firefighters will be empowered and prepared to undertake
any unknowns that could arise.
Your plan could also include someone attracting the attention of
the potential threat through direct and provocative questioning as
the other teammates exit in an opposite path. Again, a “game plan”
leaves little doubt to its participants, and it gives everyone an understanding of what their likely role is to be successful and safe.
STAGING IS FOR YOUR SAFETY
Staging should not be treated lackadaisically but instead as a
calculated tactical technique. With increases in local and national
terror, along with emotional instability and escalating community
violence, safety for firefighters needs to be prioritized. Staging for
potential violence is an important safety precept and for many
departments needs urgent revision.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Allow me to relate a personal experience that not only reinforces
many of the previously mentioned procedures but underscores this
resounding warning: “The act of staging cannot be taken lightly.”
For a person who tries routinely to forecast as much as I can in association with safety from violence, one of my biggest fears in the fire
service nearly became a dreaded certainty. Sadly, the errors committed were easy to see and, undeniably, could have been avoided.
It was a peaceful, sunny Sunday morning. The dispatch came
into the station house just as most do, an “uncoded medical.”
There were no indicators this call would be any different from
all the others. According to the dispatcher’s remarks, a cleaning
worker arrived at a closed business to find a stranger standing
inside the entrance, screaming for help. The worker called 911 and
police and EMS units were dispatched.
While en route and looking over the mobile dispatch terminal
call notes, our crew did not detect any notable red flags or clearly
visual clues to lead us to suspect anything dangerous. We did identify that something seemed strange, but it did not trip our “
watchout!” meters. (Error #1: Always believe the potential for violence
exists when dealing with any unknown circumstance. Start off
prepared to encounter violence, and transition when appropriate.)
We proceeded to drive to a neighborhood near the call site and
parked. Our staging position was approximately half a block away
and around the corner from the target address. We were obscured
from view but not too far away to respond quickly if needed.
An operational judgment placing an apparatus in an area that not only is removed
from the immediate danger zone but is far enough away from the KNOWN problem to construct a refuge buffer. (Photo by Phillip Pessar, www.flickr.com/photos/