Major Incidents

A Paramedic’s First-Hand Account of EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

Paramedics and EMTs from the Sterling (Va.) Volunteer Rescue Squad (SVRS) joined hundreds of other fire and EMS units that took part in the response to the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. SVRS was part of a larger deployment from Loudoun County, Va. The deployment included the Loudoun County Department of Fire and Rescue, Ashburn Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department, Arcola Volunteer Fire Department and Loudoun County Volunteer Rescue Squad. The company has been participating in inaugurations since President Nixon’s second term in 1973.

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

Protesters gather outside of DCFD Engine 16. The glass on the street is from one of the DCFD Chief’s vehicles, damaged by protestors.

This inauguration proved to be much different than the first one I worked when I was a new medic in 1989. When President George H. W. Bush was sworn into office, the city was alive and happy. It was sunny and breezy and I remember President and Mrs. Bush getting out of their limousine and walking along parts of the parade route. We had a front-row seat to history.

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

An SVRS medic unit responds to an injury on K Street, the site of some of the worst rioting.

But on Jan. 20, 2017, I rolled into a very different version of the nation’s capital. It was dark, cold and wet. A light rain fell and the tension was palpable. We had maps with designated entry and exit points. We had to undergo background screening by the U.S. Secret Service, and there were barriers—very large, physical barriers that marked the inner and outer perimeter and it didn’t matter who you were, you weren’t crossing the perimeter.

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

Crowds attempt to block K Street in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

As the sun came up on the city, the weather matched the mood of the day for so many. I drove the streets of the north side and was struck by the stark difference in the crowds. Most were pleasant, smiling and waving, but the ones the nation will forever remember are the hundreds who were rioting. Our first encounter was with a small group of people dressed in all black, goggles on, faces masked and carrying gas masks. Clearly, they weren’t here to embrace a peaceful transition of power.

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

An SVRS medic unit at the intersection of 13th and K Street, near where a limousine was set on fire by protesters.

Soon, there were reports of officers injured, windows being shattered, and even a fire station being pelted with rocks and bricks. It was chaos. The area of K Street NW, normally a busy multi-lane road in the city, became ground zero, with large crowds taking over the streets, setting fire to cars and blocking responding units. It was a sad day for me; a day with mixed emotions. I was proud to be taking part in history, but I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

SVRS medics were happy to be part of history, despite the negative attention of protesters.

In the end, I never saw the President or the parade. I listened to the swearing in on the radio and I was proud of the work our teams had done. Our bike teams, medic units and utility terrain vehicle (UTV) treated a handful of patients, including several injured officers. We were cut off by protesters. We felt the concussion of flash bangs and we were part of history. I miss the sunny day and smiling faces from 1989. 

EMS Response to the Inauguration Protests

Robin Davis, NRP, is assistant chief of the Sterling Volunteer Rescue Squad and has been a member of the department since 1986.