Seattle expands protections to firefighters, first responders
May 9, 2023, 5:39 PM
The Seattle City Council unanimously passed Council Bill 120549, sponsored by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis, which will extend its legal protections — originally for city employees — to Seattle firefighters and other first responders while they’re attending various emergencies.
The measure now defines anyone physically interfering or obstructing first responders from responding to an emergency as a crime.
“No employee should fear for their safety from bystanders as they deliver life-saving services. When firefighters are carrying heavy and difficult-to-manage equipment to put out a fire or kneeling over to resuscitate a patient, they are particularly vulnerable,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said in response to the bill’s passing. “Unfortunately, that vulnerability leads not only to risks to themselves, but delays that have a disparate impact on vulnerable communities they serve.”
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According to the Seattle Fire Department (SFD), numerous incidents of people interfering with firefighters have been reported. These situations include people attempting to prevent firefighters from extinguishing fires or providing care by threatening to physically attacking them. One such incident involved an aggressive bystander throwing rocks at firefighters and paramedic personnel while they transported a patient on a gurney, according to the department.
“I immediately went to the patient to see if he had an airway, if he was breathing, if he had circulation, what had to be done, and with police on scene, I was yelled at and shoved out of the way,” Seattle firefighter Liam Roaney told KIRO Newsradio when describing a particular incident preventing him from providing aid.
SFD Chief Harold Scoggins claimed disruptions requiring the assistance of the Seattle Police Department have occurred approximately 150 times in the last 12 months.
“This is very important legislation that will assist in improving safety to our firefighters as we respond 24/7 to fires, medical emergencies, and many other types of incidents,” Scoggins said in a prepared statement. “Over the past several years, our firefighters have been physically assaulted or verbally threatened while trying to serve those in need who are often the most vulnerable in our community. When we have to delay our response because of threats, it can cause fires to increase in size or medical conditions to deteriorate. I want to thank the mayor’s office, the city council, and the community for their ongoing support of the Seattle Fire Department.”
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Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda added three amendments to the bill. People will not be charged for obstructing their own care (such as when they are revived by Naloxone and may be disoriented and violent); Police will have to consult with the SFD before engaging with people at the scene; and for the legislation to be evaluated to make sure it’s not having unintended consequences, such as racially disparate charges.
“Seattle Fire Fighters support this ordinance to ensure that we can provide life-saving emergency services without interruption when called to help,” International Association of Fire Fighters Local 27 President Kenny Stuart said. “This change will allow firefighters to focus our full attention on the job at hand, so we can save lives and remain safe.”