LAWTON, OK (KSWO) – The Lawton Fire Department says they believe their already dangerous jobs are even more dangerous with everything happening around the country with police officers.
Firefighters respond to the same calls as police officers, sometimes arriving before the police. With everything happening between the public and police, local firefighters say there is a new danger when they arrive at a scene, as there could potentially be someone there trying to harm the police. Lawton Fire Chief Dewayne Burk says he has even had a few firefighters bring up the idea of carrying firearms while on duty.
Before that could happen either a new state law would have to be passed allowing it. Every firefighter would have to go through the same intensive formal certification process that all law enforcement in the state must complete. While carrying a firearm is an issue, the firefighters were actually more worried with the uniforms they have to wear.
One big problem the department has right now is their uniforms closely resemble those that LPD wear.
"We get confused with LPD quite often. In the grocery store, out at public events, parents will tell their kids say hi to the police man," said Lieutenant Brad Milam of the Lawton Fire Department.
"It's a pretty regular basis when were out because our shirts are the same color as theirs. The only thing missing on us is a gun but everything else is the same," said Lieutenant Wesley Phillips of the Lawton Fire Department.
Lawton Fire Chief Dewayne Burk says in the past when responding to a call the only thing the firefighters had to fear was the situation they were coming in to stop.
"Now our attention seems to be more directed or becoming more focused on the actual environment we're responding to because of the possibility of people out there who understand know when they call 911 were going to come and when we get there we don't know what we're walking into as far as the environment and people around us," Burk said.
Chief Burk says there isn't one simply way to fix this problem, but changing their uniforms could potentially be a part of the solution.
"That's kind of a double-edged sword. We want to be picked out of a crowd, we want to be identifiable, because that's what the public expects is that when we show up on the scene. We are identifiable. They know who they can go to get help and assistance, by the same account being identifiable and standing out makes us easy targets," Burk said.
Which means, for now, carrying firearms is not the answer.
"I don't know that carrying a weapon for a firefighter is a solution due to some of the situations. We're in a house fire, last thing we need is a weapon on our side," Phillips said.
Firefighters do have options if they feel a call they are responding to is unsafe.
"We can call LPD and they'll be there fairly quickly, and we'll wait for them to secure the scene before we go in. But sometimes, that's not always the case and we may put ourselves into those situations. That' when we could call LPD and have training with them and learn maybe how to deescalate these problems," Milam said.
The fire department has formed a uniform committee that is expected to take a look at their uniforms and see if changing it is the right decision.
Chief Burk says he thinks the problems stem from the growth of social media and people being able to post things that don't necessarily tell the whole story.