Protests have continued throughout the nation since the end of May. One of the most frequent demands among protesters is to ‘defund police.’ Advocates clarify that this two-word rally cry means to reduce, not eliminate funding. Even with the clarification, the call for a reduction in local law enforcement funding has raised concerns for some. Among those expressing concern is the King County Paramedic IAFF 2595 union.
On July 23, the King County Paramedics IAFF 2595 shared a letter from the union on their social media. The letter (read the full letter below) expressed the union’s shared “outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the violence endured by communities of color,” while acknowledging Black communities’ pain.
King County Medic One Paramedics serve some of the most culturally and ethnically diverse communities in South King County, and state “it is our duty to treat all patients with the respect and dignity we would expect for our families.”
“These same events could have easily happened in South King County”
Law Enforcement and EMS
Recognizing the public was mostly unaware of how paramedics rely on the police for certain calls, the Executive Board felt “informing the public how defunding police and the delays in care that would statistically harm black communities more so than any other demographic was important.”
It is common policy for EMS and fire personnel not to enter scenes of known violence without law enforcement first clearing the scene. The Executive Board explained, “while police are clearing those scenes of violence, we are nearby but not on scene. This allows for a quick response but also the safety of EMS and Fire, who are staged away from the call.”
“Delays in care due to the inability to secure a scene of violence would be devastating to our ability to perform life-saving measures to victims of violent crime,” continued the Executive Board. “The Local felt that remaining silent without educating the public on these facts would make us complicit in a potential change that could be devastating to communities of color.”
It Could Happen in South King County
The recent shooting death of Horace “Lorenzo” Anderson (19) inside the former CHOP Zone is a tragic example of the potential delays the Executive Board is concerned about. Seattle Fire Department paramedics staged one block away, but policy prevented them from entering the area until police secured the scene.
In a recent interview with Q13 Fox, attorney Mark Linquist stated he was “confident those medics wanted to help, but the city had no plan in place so that they could help.” Linquist is one of the attorneys representing Anderson’s mother, Sinclair Martin.
The events surrounding Anderson’s death were “a sobering reminder these same events could have easily happened in [South] King County,” said the Executive Board. “Our job is to save lives and serve the public. We pride ourselves on providing world-class care in the prehospital setting to anyone and everyone that needs our services.”
According to a report from Public Health Seattle & King County, the majority of King County gun violence happens in South King County. The report also indicates victims are overwhelmingly Black males.
Everyone Should Feel Safe To Call 911 For EMS
King County Paramedic’s letter solicited feedback from members of the community. As first responders, it is vital to the union that the right resources are sent to each call, while also providing adequate protection for their members. “We are for any systemic change that [allows] communities of color to feel safe and confident in calling 911 for EMS, [while also providing] a safe environment for our members to perform their life-saving measures,” said the Executive Board.
“Communities of color have enough societal obstacles placed before them. Calling 911 for medical care shouldn’t be one of them”
One of the union’s goals is also to identify ways their membership can address potential barriers to care that exist for Black communities when contacting 911 for medical assistance. The Executive Board has also reached out to Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County, requesting a class with a Q&A session. The board’s objective of this partnership is “identifying ways we as a membership can improve and overcome any obstacles that may exist through collaboration and education of the membership.”
“Communities of color have enough societal obstacles placed before them. Calling 911 for medical care shouldn’t be one of them, “said Executive Board.
Full Open Letter to the Citizens of King County:
“We wish we had the answers to racial inequality and racism. We don’t, but we recognize that African American communities are in pain and rightfully so. The IAFF Local 2595 Executive Board and its members share the widespread outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the violence endured by communities of color. The union members of IAFF Local 2595 support equality for all, equal opportunities for all, and a socially and racially just America for all. Your King County paramedics are dedicated to service for all citizens of King County, and we want to hear the voices of communities that are asking for change.
In South King County, we serve some of the most culturally and ethnically diverse communities in King County. It is our duty to treat all patients with the respect and dignity we would expect for our families. We strive to always deliver a high level of emergency medical care that the public expects and deserves from the Medic One EMS system.
There are aspects of policing, specifically how police support the work of fire and EMS crews, that are not as well known. King County paramedics work closely with police to deliver care in volatile environments. Violent crimes such as stabbings, shootings, or domestic violence incidents necessitate a rapid and robust police response to ensure the safety and security of EMS and fire personnel. Because our focus is on patient care, fire and EMS are not equipped to enter scenes of violence without police. We stage a safe distance away from the scene until police officers can ensure a reasonable level of safety for EMS and fire personnel to treat and extract patients. With a reduction in police funding and personnel, we are concerned that the amount of time it would take to clear violent scenes would greatly increase, leading to worse outcomes for our patients and greater harm to communities.
Additionally, the ubiquity of police units enables officers to respond to calls for narcotic overdoses and administer Narcan prior to EMS arrival, providing a better chance of survival to patients who overdose. Police officers also routinely respond to patients in cardiac arrest in south King County, starting CPR and deploying an AED until EMS and firefighters arrive to take over care. CPR administered prior to EMS and fire department arrival is a key component to better neurological outcomes and cardiac arrest survivability for patients.
Due to the critical role that police currently play in facilitating critical care provided by EMS and fire personnel, the IAFF Local 2595 does not support defunding police departments. We urge city and county leaders to find solutions that protect communities of color while also ensuring the safety of EMS personnel. Your King County paramedics want everyone to feel safe when they call 911. If you have ideas or feedback on ways IAFF Local 2595 can contribute to a more racially just King County, we want to hear from you. Please email your ideas and feedback to [email protected]
Respectfully Submitted: IAFF Local 2595 Executive Board”
The King County Paramedics IAFF 2595 is a separate entity than King County Medic One. King County Medic One did not participate in this article.