Richmond, VA – The Virginia State Senate narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow firefighters and EMTs to carry weapons while on duty.
The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), the same elected official who showed up to the first day of the new session wearing a .38 revolver on her hip, The Washington Post reported.
Under the proposed new law, emergency personnel would have to obtain their own concealed-carry permits and get permission from their fire or emergency medical chief in order to actually carry a gun on duty.
"The current law they can already [carry a concealed weapon], it’s usually a policy or procedure of that locality that they don’t," Chase said, according to WTVR. "That’s still on the table - every locality can decide for themselves."
The law would require locally-elected officials to sign off on their firefighters and EMTs carrying weapons, according to The Washington Post.
Chase is the mother of an EMT for the City of Harrisonburg and she sponsored the bill because she said first responders are often called to volatile emergencies when their own lives could be endangered.
"My daughter was actually staging an event. She had someone come up to her window and tap on her window. There was a hostage situation going on. There was no one at the ambulance where she was staging - no one there to protect her," Chase told WTVR.
She also pointed out that in rural areas, law enforcement is spread very thin and sometimes deputies arrive on the scene well after the medics.
"We are exposing our volunteers to unknown situations. A lot of times they don’t know what they’re walking into," Chase said.
She said that firefighters and EMTs arriving at an active-shooter incident, for example, should be able to defend themselves if necessary, The Washington Post reported.
Several fire chiefs have publicly supported the legislation with written statements.
"Once instance I can think of - I called myself along with other firefighters to set up a landing zone for the Med Flight helicopter responding to a shooting victim,” Amelia County Company No. 1 Fire Chief Justin Wargofcak wrote. “Two of the suspects had fled on foot in the area armed with guns. We did not have any law enforcement security due to it being in a rural area and all the resources were at the scene of the incident.”
“If anyone would have tried to stop or attack us we would have not had a way to protect ourselves," Wargofcak said.
In Nottoway County, members of the emergency squad recently bought body armor vests and paid for the $650 piece of protective gear out of their own pockets, WTVR reported.
Democrats in the state house opposed the measure, which was very similar to a bill that was killed by that legislative body last year.
Virginia State Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) led the charge against arming firefighters and EMTs, which many found surprising since he is a volunteer firefighter in Dale City.
However, McPike said he felt that there was too much legal liability in letting first responders defend their own lives unless they were given full training, according to The Washington Post.
The state senate voted 21 to 19 to pass the measure, which will now advance to the state house.