Legislation proposed by Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle and South Park) and Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7 – Pioneer Square to Magnolia) to better protect firefighters responding emergencies unanimously passed out of committee today. It now goes to a full Council vote scheduled for May 2.
How it works
Seattle law already includes protections for “public officers” who are responding to emergencies, making it a crime to physically interfere with them as they try to provide aid. However, that law does not explicitly include firefighters or other fire department employees, except the Fire Marshall.
This is detrimental for the safety of the city’s first responders as well as to the people to whom they are rendering life-saving aid. The Seattle Fire Department (SFD) has reported incidents of people aggressively interfering with firefighters while they attempt to preform dangerous and life-saving work. That includes situations where people have tried to prevent firefighters from extinguishing fires or threatened to physically attack firefighters.
The legislation proposed by Councilmembers Herbold and Lewis would extend firefighters and SFD employees the same protections afforded to police officers, including them as “public officers” under Seattle law. It will also enable SFD and the Seattle Police Department to collaborate on strategies to create space and access for firefighters to do their job, reducing confrontations before they begin.
“Every day, Seattle’s firefighters are rushing into danger to protect us, whether it be from a house fire, a car wreck, or an overdose. They do so unarmed, and often their life-saving work reviving a person makes it difficult to have any defensive awareness of a possible threat. It’s time we make sure we are doing all we can to protect them,” said Councilmember Herbold. “This is a common-sense fix to Seattle’s laws that allows firefighters to focus on the dangerous work they do and makes us all safer.”
“Firefighters are on the front lines every day serving as the first responder for neighbors in crisis. On a daily basis, the first aid measures performed by firefighters are the difference between life and death. Seconds can matter,” said Councilmember Lewis. “Nobody should have the right to delay a firefighter from administering these critical services. But, in Seattle, that is functionally the state of our current law. This common-sense proposal extends to firefighters the same protections already enjoyed by police officers and other city employees.”
“This is very important legislation that could assist in improving safety to our firefighters as we respond 24/7 to serve our community on fires, medical emergencies and many other types of incidents,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold D. Scoggins. “Over the past several years our firefighters have been physically assaulted, verbally threatened all 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 could 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.”.
The legislation unanimously passed out of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee today. It now goes to a full Council vote scheduled on May 2.