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Paramedics & Firefighters Rarely Have to Face Gun Violence

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Firefighters and paramedics often work in hostile situations, but they rarely encounter a planned ambush like the fusillade of bullets that killed two New York firefighters and wounded two others.

"Something like what happened -- there's really no preparation for it," says Jim McTiernan, a captain with the Rochester Fire Department who is president of the International Union of Fire Fighters Local 1071 in Rochester, N.Y., which represents one of the injured men. "Gun violence is somewhat unique."

Early Monday morning, William Spengler, 62, set fire to his house and a car, hid behind a berm with a Bushmaster .223 rifle, a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun and a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol and fired on the first responders from West Webster, N.Y., a Rochester suburb. As firefighters ran for cover and evacuated the neighborhood, the fire spread to six other houses and Spengler fatally shot himself, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.

McTiernan says emergency medical technicians encounter combative people who might assault them, and firefighters douse fires set by arsonists in booby-trapped homes, but instances of firefighters shot and killed while responding to a fire or other emergency are rare.

"There are a lot of situations where there is the potential for real trouble if you're not careful," he says.

A sniper killed firefighter Ryan Hummert, 22, and wounded two police officers in 2008 as they responded to a pickup and house fire in Maplewood, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. Later that year, a carjacker shot and killed off-duty St. Louis firefighter Leonard Riggins, who saw a car wreck and stopped to help, not knowing that the armed carjacker had crashed the car.

Roswell, N.M., Fire Chief Louis Jones, 46, died in March 2002 after responding to a house fire. As Jones approached the house, a man began firing, hitting Jones in the head and killing a paramedic. The shooter, a man with a history of mental illness, had set the fire, killed a neighbor, shot the neighbor's 3-year-old son and taken a 5-year-old child hostage before killing himself, according to a report from the Roswell Fire Department.

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