SPOKANE, Wash. - Local firefighters say the new police reform laws are shifting the way they respond to specific incidents, and join law enforcement in their concerns about the new laws.
On July 25th, nearly a dozen police reform laws changed the way police respond to certain incidents. Being first responders as well, firefighters are impacted by these new laws in other ways.
Spokane Fire Department Firefighter Alex Kamps gave an example of these new impacts, saying “I’m on the BRU (Behavioral Response Unit), [for example] we have a person with mental problems in his apartment. But he has a tire iron and is threatening to hit people and is damaging his own home. We can no longer go in there,” said Kamps. “And you know what, maybe that person really needs our help.”
From an outside perspective, it can seem that police and firefighters have very different responsibilities. But as Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer showed KHQ's Alex Peebles on Friday, those responsibilities often overlap.
“We would contact them with the police department and the police department would be upfront ahead of us with ballistic armor with the ability to handle a situation in case it elevated, wake the person up and if there was a medical problem, we would be right there to take care of it,” said Schaeffer.
But now with the new laws, Firefighters say that rarely happens.
Kamps described another example, this time explaining how firefighters won't respond to certain calls because they don't have law enforcement there to assist them. “Normally the scene would be cleared, but now we are getting told that police are not responding. So we aren't going to go. Me and my partner, it’s just us, we are still sitting in front of this building, you know I have two kids at home, I have a family,” Kamps said. “I want to help people but her and I are not equipped to knock on that man’s door and say hey are you okay, because what happens if he opens the door and just swings.”
And the safety of his firefighters is something Chief Schaeffer takes very seriously.
“I made a promise to their families that we wouldn’t risk our lives for lives that were not savable or put their family’s life in jeopardy for a situation that was a needless situation. Many of these are really bordering on that promise that I made to those families,” Schaeffer said.
Even with the police not backing up firefighters on most calls, Chief Schaeffer and his crews still take those risks for the good of the community. But Schaeffer added in some cases they will have to walk away.
“If [safety] means walking away, which we have, we will continue to do that. It doesn't make me feel very good that we are walking away potentially from a situation where somebody needs our help,” Schaeffer said. “But at the same time, we can’t be efficient, we can't do our job, if we are not safe.”
Fire officials say their main priority is protecting the safety of their firefighters. They add that going on some of these calls with the new reform laws may take them longer, but reinforce that they are still here to serve the community.