Firefighters are certainly authority figures. When they show up to house fires, car accidents, and medical emergencies – they take control and act as leaders to the general public. They are frontline public safety workers, much like police officers.
Can a firefighter detain you? Yes, firefighters can detain you if they observe you committing a crime or if you are a danger to yourself and others. Though they have the ability to detain you, it isn’t their responsibility to do so. Laws may differ across different jurisdictions.
In most cases, firefighters have the same capabilities and authority as the public. If a citizen observes someone commit a crime, they are allowed to legally detain that person until law enforcement shows up. The rules for firefighters are no different – if they arrive on the scene of an emergency and the suspect is still there, they have the authority to legally detain them.
Being Detained By A Firefighter
When a firefighter detains you, it is a little bit different than when being detained by a police officer. A firefighter may detain you for a few different reasons:
- If they have reason to believe you are the suspect of a crime
- If you witnessed an event that needs to be documented by law enforcement
- If they think that you have an altered mental status and may potentially harm yourself or others
None the less, it is important to know that being detained by a firefighter holds just as much weight as does when being detained by a police officer. You should cooperate, follow instructions, and understand that the firefighter is always looking out for the best interest of everyone involved. All of your actions and everything that you say will be documented and can be subpoenaed to be read in court.
Firefighters are within their legal rights to physically detain you under the situations listed above. As part of most fire departments’ standard operating procedures, it is only in extreme circumstances that a firefighter should physically restrain and detain someone. Protocol for most, if not all, fire departments is to have law enforcement secure the scene and any potential risks to the firefighters before they approach. That being said, most suspects are detained by law enforcement prior to the fire department’s arrival.
Will They Handcuff Me?
Firefighters don’t carry handcuffs. They do, however, carry restraints. The restraints are applied to a person’s arms and legs then secured to the cot in the back of the ambulance. This is a practice that’s reserved for patients that have an altered mental status, have a mental illness, or are threatening to hurt themselves. Firefighters will not use restraints to detain a person unless they fall under one of those categories. If a firefighter comes into contact with someone that should be detained and needs to be restrained – their first course of action is to call law enforcement. If the subject doesn’t meet the guidelines to be restrained by the firefighter, they will wait and observe from a safe distance until law enforcement arrives and secures the scene.
You Aren’t Under Arrest
Being detained is different than being arrested. Just because you’re detained doesn’t mean that you’re going to jail. Firefighters will call and partner with law enforcement to determine the course of action based on the events that lead up to being detained. If law enforcement concludes that there is enough evidence against you, they will charge you with a crime. Police officers will trust the facts given to them by firefighters as they too are serving the public and responsible for factually documenting every incident. Firefighters only have the authority to arrest citizens in rare situations (such as arson). If a fire investigator determines that a fire was caused due to arson and they have enough evidence against a suspect – they are able to make the arrest.
Everything you do after coming into contact with a firefighter will be documented on their incident report. Incident reports from fire departments are legal documents that can be used in court. If a firefighter attempts to restrain someone and they resist, it will be reported and the subject will be charged according to the laws of their jurisdiction. Additionally, since firefighters are public safety workers, they are protected under some of the same laws as police officers. If you are to cause physical harm or to injure a firefighter, you will receive the same charge as if you injured a police officer. You’re looking at an automatic felony and guaranteed jail time. Judges don’t cut a whole lot of slack to people that abuse those that are put in place to protect and keep the community safe.
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Detained For Medical Emergencies
At times, firefighters will be called to assist patients with an altered mental status and patients with mental health issues. In these situations, firefighters won’t think twice about detaining the patient. These people are at high risk of causing harm to themselves and others. At the first sign of losing control of the situation, firefighters will detain and restrain the patient to avoid a potentially harmful situation. If the resources are available, several firefighters will work together to restrain this type of patient. One firefighter per limb is assigned to securing and holding until the restraints have been applied. As with any other procedure that happens while in the care of the fire department, the process will be documented. Again, these people are not under arrest, just being detained for treatment and everyone’s safety.
In addition to detaining you, firefighters also have the ability and responsibility of admitting you into a mental health facility against your will if you meet the criteria. Typically, for that to happen you must threaten to hurt or kill yourself. People who make such threats are not in the right state of mind, also known as having an altered mental status. These people need medical evaluation and treatment that they aren’t going to voluntarily get on their own. So when firefighters come into contact with people displaying signs of a psychiatric emergency, their job is to get them the help they need. There are different terms used to describe this type of detainment such as “Baker Act” and “Pink Slipped”. Different areas use different lingo but the guidelines for detention are the same. Firefighters and other healthcare professionals have this authority. Law enforcement may be involved but it isn’t necessary.
Off Duty Firefighters
Off duty firefighters follow the same guidelines as firefighters that are on duty. If they observe a situation where someone should be detained, they legally have the right to do so. Not because they are a public servant, but because they are a citizen. Again, this is similar to a citizen’s arrest. Both off duty and on duty firefighters use their better judgment when choosing to detain a person. It is even more crucial that firefighters that are off duty make the right decision when it comes to detaining someone. Off duty firefighters aren’t equipped with tools that can help them if needed. Also, they don’t have a direct line of communication to nearby police officers without their department-issued radio.
Firefighters That Are Also Police Officers
In recent years, some areas have experimented with hybrid firefighters that are also police officers. These officers are fully trained in both areas and carry gear with them to work in any capacity of either job. These types of firefighters have full authority to detain and arrest. They are sworn police officers and that gives them the right to detain anyone for probable cause. These types of officers wear special uniforms and drive vehicles that are marked differently so they are identifiable as both firefighters and police officers.
It’s Not Their Job To Detain You
A little food for thought to wrap up here. It is never a firefighter’s goal or responsibility to detain or make arrests. Firefighters don’t leave the firehouse looking to detain someone. Firefighters are public servants that act as patient advocates. That means that the firefighters are looking out for everyone’s best interests. When a firefighter makes the decision to detain someone, it means that they have evaluated the entire situation and have determined that the best course of action is to detain to prevent future harmful situations.
Can firefighters write citations?
Firefighters working as fire inspectors have the authority to give out citations or fines to businesses and residences that have fire code violations that haven’t been corrected after giving reasonable notice.
Can EMTs and paramedics detain you?
EMTs and Paramedics follow the same guidelines firefighters do. They will detain you if you are the suspect of a crime or if you have the potential to cause harm to yourself or others.
Can security guards detain you?
Security guards are put in place by the property or area they are hired to secure. They have the authority to protect the grounds they are assigned to and detaining is well within their rights while on duty.
To learn how to best prepare and study for your firefighter exam click here.
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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.