Bill: Let Ga. firefighters arm themselves

Author: Scott Johnson, General assignment reporter, sjohnson@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 24 2014 02:57:42 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 24 2014 07:03:34 PM EST
CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. -

A firefighter's goal is to save lives. Now the Georgia Legislature is considering whether to allow them to arm themselves.

Often when there's an emergency needing police and fire, firefighters are the first to arrive to the scene. Because they sometimes go in the front door first and don't know what's on the other side, a Georgia lawmaker wants them to be armed.

The issue began last spring in Gwinnett County when a group of firefighters were held hostage by a gunman. Now legislation is being pushed to allow firefighters to arm themselves.

Capt. William Terrell, spokesman for Camden County Fire and Rescue, said that may not be the best idea.

"You run into the logistics of how would you do that," he said. "With all the equipment and ammo, just a lot of nightmares you could run into doing that."

The proposed legislation would allow for individual departments to still not allow firearms and take precedence over state law. Camden County Fire and Rescue said it has a great working relationship with police, and particularly on domestic violence calls, rescuers wait for police before they go in the door. So the department probably would continue to ban the guns.

"They may not foresee firefighters doing their job fast enough, but again, in almost every situation there's also police or sheriff's (deputies) there to maintain the peace," Terrell said.

Despite some agencies not wanting to apply this proposed state law locally, there are some supporters, including a gun rights group called Georgia Carry.

"I am concerned that there are people who will do what Gwinnett County did and put them at risk," Jerry Henry, of Georgia Carry, said in a phone interview. "If the people are allowed to carry, then they decide whether they can carry or not. If they don't think they can do it safely, then fine, but they should have the right to protect themselves if they want to."

While Camden County Fire and Rescue said it doesn't run into security issues for its firefighters as often because of a great working relationship with police, in larger areas like Atlanta, proponents say it's more of an issue.

Opponents in the Legislature say this would harm firefighters' image with the public as people who are only there to help and save lives.