Protection needed by responders

Unless they are police officers or sheriff’s deputies, first responders can find themselves at the mercy of people who, for one reason or another, turn violent. “Especially in rural communities, when they go on a call, they don’t really know what to expect,” West Virginia House of Delegates member David Pethtel said of firefighters, ambulance workers and other first responders.

Thanks to Pethtel (D-Wetzel County), first responders in W.Va. may get a little bit of protection. Last week, the House passed his bill allowing properly trained first responders to carry firearms. They would have to pass a course provided by the State Police Academy and would have to maintain certification.

Simply allowing any first responder who wants to pack heat to do so legally would be a mistake, of course. But Pethtel’s bill has safeguards in addition to the training requirement. In general, they provide that authorities in charge of first responders must authorize them to carry guns. Someone in responsibility has to agree with individual requests to carry firearms.

State senators considered a similar bill last year, but rejected it, Pethtel noted.

Especially considering the drug crisis in the state, first responders have every right to worry about their safety in responding to calls for assistance. As Pethtel noted, that is more a problem in rural areas, where emergency medical personnel and firefighters may have to respond without nearby police backup.

State senators should give Pethtel’s bill careful consideration and, unless a reasonable objection surfaces, approve it.