Missouri Attack a Reminder Every 911 Call Has Safety Risk


 
 

Jodi Andes | | Wednesday, July 23, 2008


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Word spread quickly among Columbus' first responders after Missouri police and firefighters were ambushed Monday as they showed up at a car fire.

A gunman in Maplewood, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, killed a 22-year-old firefighter seconds after he stepped off the truck. Two police officers were wounded.

Columbus police and fire officials say they have made changes over the years to lessen the chances of such an attack, but they acknowledge that no plan is foolproof.

"There was probably nothing that could have been done about it," said Battalion Chief Doug Smith, spokesman for the Fire Division.

Yesterday, authorities in Missouri recovered what they thought to be charred remains from the rubble of a burned house, from which the gunman might have ambushed the emergency workers, St. Louis County's medical examiner said.

Investigators also found a long barrel that came from a rifle or shotgun, county police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said. Panus noted that some witness statements indicated a person inside the house was seen lighting clothes on fire.

In 1994, Columbus bought 100 bullet-resistant vests for paramedics and their supervisors because of increasing concern about danger they faced at crime scenes. There were plans to buy vests for firefighters on engines and ladder trucks, but that never happened, Smith said.

Since then, takers of emergency 911 calls have helped improve safety by questioning callers more about whether police should also be sent, he said.

Historically, firefighters say they need to worry more about seemingly mundane, daily runs than about ambushes. For example, after Red, White & Boom a few years ago, firefighters were sent to Franklinton because two people had been shot with a shotgun. Bystanders told police that the gunman had fled, so paramedics started treating the victims, firefighter Scott Rader said.

As they worked on the men, someone noticed that the gunman was in a house just a few feet away, peering at them from a window, Rader said.

The paramedics rushed the victims out of the area, and both lived, but it was a scary scene, he added.

Other times, Rader said, he has been attacked by a diabetic suffering from low blood sugar or a bystander who feared that firefighters were hurting -- not helping -- someone in need.

Ambush attacks have been a bigger issue for Columbus police.

A sniper or perhaps more than one has shot at officers periodically over the past several years as they responded to calls in Weinland Park. No one has been caught, said Sgt. Richard Weiner, a spokesman for the Police Division.

Police patrol more when the shooter re-emerges in Weinland Park, or they double up on the number of officers who are asked to respond to the scene, he said.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.


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