Military and Police

Fire Department Increases Staffing 911 Responses Because of Dangers Firefighters Face from Illegal ‘Homeless’ Camps

Jennifer Sullivan, for KOMONews.com, is reporting that the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) has doubled the firefighters/EMTs and medics required to respond to the city’s downtown criminal playgrounds otherwise known as illegal encampments, scarring the city generally, but, in this case, specifically ruining the city’s historic Pioneer Square district.

An SFD spokesman, Capt. Shata Stephenson issued a statement saying the department has increased from two or four firefighters to “at least six” when responding to certain “homeless” camp locations within Pioneer Square.

Incidentally, allow me to put a dash of seasoning on the decline of that area over the years. While there have always been street folks in the area, there was a time people could go about relatively unmolested, taking in the tourist attractions in the area or conducting business. These days, I rarely go to Seattle. I’ll dare it only when necessary. The last time I was in that specific location, my wife and I were walking through Pioneer Square on our way to a meeting. We heard a commotion across the street near some vagrants’ tents.

When I looked over, I saw a disheveled man wildly swinging a golf club over his head and swearing loudly at his intended target. The other man chose the better part of discretion and staggered away. The felonious urban duffer then leaned his five-iron against a bench, sat down, and picked up and slurped on his can of beer. All was right again in his domain. I wasn’t too concerned because, being retired law enforcement, I take proper precautions whenever I go downtown. But it’s still so sad.

Anyway, in the blight pit formerly known as the once-beautiful, birthplace of downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square, life goes on. SFD said the policy is temporary but didn’t elaborate on its estimated duration—I suppose that depends on the future actions of an inept city clowncil. The department also didn’t list which specific camps were on the response list, but say the areas affected include much of the Pioneer Square neighborhood. SFD says an assault on a firefighter last May prompted the extraordinary policy change.

Seattle homeless camp. (Credit: Facebook/Let’s Rock & Roll & Change the World)

The bolstered response area also includes the more traditional shelters, including the Union Gospel Mission and the Downtown Emergency Services Center.

SFD Operations Asst. Chief Bryan Hastings spoke about firefighters being on edge against attacks when they are supposed to be focused on their patients. Instead, they have to worry about their patients’ safety as well as their own. They constantly have to be checking their surroundings.

I’ve seen this firsthand on the job. Firefighters treating an intoxicated assault victim when the original intoxicated attacker returns to finish the job. While this behavior has never been unheard of, it seems to be routine now in areas where vagrant camp lawlessness proliferates. And why does it proliferate? Because of lax enforcement due to inane city policies.

Chief Hastings also refers not only to the added danger of these calls but also to an increase in the number of calls to these areas. “The call volume has gone up, but the complexity of the calls has gone up tremendously.” He added SFD responds to 120,000 911 calls per year. Downtown core firefighters now respond to 30 calls per day—just for medical attention.

It should go without saying, but what increases when calls increase and the number of personnel required rises? The taxes necessary to pay for these responses. Six staff instead of two or four and two rigs instead of one means the costs go up commensurately. And let’s not forget while firefighter/EMTs and medics are busy tending to the drunk fights, assaults, and self-inflicted overdoses occurring daily, they are not available to respond to law-abiding taxpayers’ fire, medical, and rescue emergencies.

Chief Hastings said, included in the new policy for each call to Pioneer Square, the department will dispatch two ladder companies (instead of one), or a medic unit and an engine/ladder company, or one engine and one aid car [ambulance]. Taking more staff and twice the equipment out of service.

Ladder 1 Responding Seattle Fire Department—2009 Pierce Arrow XT 100′ Tiller. (Credit: Facebook/Sanantoniofire Webteam)

Firefighters have always called for police backup on occasion, using common sense. However, calling for the cops for backup today, on what should be low-risk calls, is a matter of policy. By and large, Seattle’s fire and police departments have traditionally had a familial relationship. In fact, when I was active, if firefighters called for an emergency backup, police officers treated the call as if it were a fellow cop calling for help.

Though this policy is new, Seattle firefighters are not new to the issues related to the dangers posed to them by the city allowing illegal “homeless” camps to ooze all over the jurisdiction. On October 22, 2017, the Seattle Firefighters Union (SFU) sent a letter to Kshama Sawant, the shrill socialist city councilwoman and political bomb-thrower who supports decriminalizing crime in Seattle—if committed by a “homeless” person or anyone from a “protected” victim group.

In the letter, Kenny Stuart, the SFU president, cites Sawant’s position on the issue: “Sawant has included a proviso in the 2018 city budget that would put a halt to camp clean-ups until the city can guarantee the ‘human rights of unauthorized encampment inhabitants.’” What about the “human rights” of the firefighters?

Stuart also expressed concerns for serious issues firefighters face such as, “Needle sticks, exposure to biohazards and contaminants, and assault…at unauthorized encampments every day.” Needle sticks are not as innocuous as it sounds. I saw several cops suffer needle sticks during my career. The intense stress cops (or firefighters) suffer wondering about all the diseases they may have been exposed to, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C, is enormous.

There may be some respite on the horizon. Seattle is well-known as a proverbial leftist bastion. Perhaps, it’s only exceeded in leftist lunacy by San Francisco. Although, the idiocy competition between leftist cities is stiff these days. Still, according to KTTH Radio host Jason Rantz, a poll primarily about the city’s controversial head-tax (targeting the city’s largest employers such as Amazon and Starbuck’s), conducted by a progressive outfit called Strategies 360, found the Seattle City Council is about as popular as President Trump—not very.

Rantz writes that one source, reported in The Stranger, said the council’s favorability ratings are about 40 percent. But job performance ratings are between 20-30 percent, matching Trump’s approval numbers in Seattle. This may signal some hope for the Emerald City after all. Still, I remain skeptical. Never underestimate the leftist voters’ capacity for being wrong.

This issue caught my attention because I have friends who are or are retired from the SFD. I also know several cops who transferred to the fire department. And, of course, my wife spent 25 years serving on a fire department just north of Seattle. It’s frustrating because I don’t know of another city “problem” that has a simpler solution: Enforce the law!

It is a sad commentary on the decline of civil urban society exacerbated by leftist politics. Cops joke with firefighters about them being society’s “heroes” compared with cops whom leftist society so often craps on. But, firefighter/EMTs and medics objectively are the good guys. While cops are certainly good guys, too, and do heroic things, their job is also, necessarily, disciplinarian in certain aspects, especially enforcement actions.

No one thanks cops for being told “no,” getting a ticket, or being arrested. On the other hand, firefighters arrive with the intent to help injured or suffering people, and their duties rarely include disciplining people. Firefighter/EMTs and medics don’t deserve to be treated as targets by people who shouldn’t be living in tents under freeways, in parks, and on the sidewalks of a major American city in the first place. And they sure don’t deserve to be put at risk by city politicians whose job includes establishing policies that should protect their firefighters, not endanger them by exposing them to avoidable risks.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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