self defense

Are Firefighters Trained In Self Defense?

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As I was sitting earlier today eating a bowl of my kids Trix cereal, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, to see what the world is up to and what people are complaining about today. I then came across a very disturbing video about an encounter a local fire officer went through. Mind you, this is not a volunteer department, it’s a full time and pretty big, but nowhere near as big as FDNY or Chicago Fire. The video was a bystander on Facebook Live showing a fire officer trying to calm down an individual in the middle of traffic. The individual started to punch the fire officer, and he just ate those punches and went down very quickly. Motorists began to get out of their cars and try to go help, until the police arrived and secured the scene. Since most if not all fire departments today provide EMS services to possibly emotionally disturbed people, are firefighters trained in self defense?

Most fire departments do not teach their firefighters self defense, but there are some that are starting to implement some form of it. This does not stop a firefighter from taking self defense classes on their own. I will show you in my opinion, the best self defense for all first responders, and why you should consider it. Here we go.

Violence Towards First Responders

riot police

Before we get into this, there needs to be a level of understanding of the human hazards we first responders face every shift, and even off shift. If you are just getting into the fire service, or even law enforcement or EMS for that matter, this still applies. Over the years, more and more people have and continue to show aggression to first responders, and unfortunately our law enforcement brothers and sisters have it pretty bad these days. For us in fire and EMS, we tend to deal with people dealing with a medical issue. For example, a diabetic with a very low blood sugar can become violent very quickly. Not because he dislikes fire and EMS, but he is not in his right state of mind. It’s kinda like blacking out, and not having any recollection of what happened.

We also deal with this when patients overdose on narcotics, many times after the medication Naloxone (better known as Narcan) is given, the patient is immediately sober and violent if brought back too quickly. If you are unaware of what Narcan does, to sum it up, it overrides a persons “high”, and immediately sobers them up for a brief period.

Line Of Duty Death Of Appleton Firefighter

In a city 30 minutes from me, there was unfortunately a line of duty death of a firefighter due to violence. The Appleton Fire Department responded to a passed out individual on the city bus, along with Appleton Police. They gave the patient Narcan, and as the patient sobered up from his high, he was very agitated. There is body cam footage of this incident that was on youtube here.

You will see that in the video the patient starts throwing huge red flags for the police officers. The patient starts reaching for his waistband a lot, while the officers are asking the patient to show his hands. At one point the patient begins to walk backward and pull something out of his waistband. In that moment, the two officers who were attempting to get him to comply with them, scattered in opposite ways, and the patient now suspect began to fire his gun at the first responders.

Unfortunately the firefighter he just saved his life, lost his life at the hands of hi patient

Grappling/ Jiu Jitsu


Jiu jitsu is one of those self defense techniques that is both extremely practical, and very useful in physically gaining control of people, without hurting yourself or others. This was extremely useful to me when I used to be a police officer, and it is still useful now as a firefighter. As a police officer, I would have people who would try to physically overpower me during an arrest. That was obviously dangerous, because if I were to be overpowered, they could have disarmed me as well. In EMS, when you have a patient with an altered mental status, it is very easy for a situation to go from zero to 100.

Excited Delirium


Excited Delirium also known as Agitated Delirium is a medical condition defined by the National Center For Biotechnology Information (NCBI) as a condition that is characterized by agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death, often in the pre-hospital care setting. It is typically associated with the use of drugs that alter dopamine processing, hyperthermia, and, most notably, sometimes with death of the affected person in the custody of law enforcement. 

This is where you see people on shows like COPS & Live PD and other public safety reality shows where people get naked, and suddenly have superhuman strength. Check out this video here for an example.

Age restricted video

Dealing with patients in this state is extremely dangerous, and there are times that you will not have law enforcement at that very moment, where not having any self defense training can be a real problem.

Me being a heavyweight, I do not struggle too much with being able to physically control another person, but when they are in this state, their body is pushing itself to the very limit, that they often go into cardiac arrest following the episode. What does this mean to you? It means even a person such as myself at 6 foot, 275lbs mostly all muscle is getting ragdolled by someone who weighs 100lbs less than me. It may seem very unrealistic, but I promise you the human body can do some very amazing feats.

Strength & Cardio Training

isometric hold

Both strength training and cardio are extremely important in personal safety and in self defense. I wrote an article about the best strength training & cardio for heavyweights such as myself in the fire service. I personally believe you need to have strength that can last you for a while. In other words you need to be able to exert a strong amount of force for a long time. Just like the physical conditioning you need for the fireground. Your cardio is just as important, being too tired tends to make people give up on things they usually would not. Fatigue can make you fear for your life, and take you out of the fight. If you are too tired on the fireground, you have now become a hazard to the rest of your company or your team.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is so crucial to keep yourself safe and be able to make it back home at the end of your shift. The unfortunate event that happened to that Appleton firefighter is an example of the importance of being aware of what’s going on around you. Knowing the neighborhood you’re in and your environment, even the type of call you are going to, is important for you to know whether or not you need to stage until law enforcement secures the scene. I want to clarify that firefighters are not afraid of danger, maybe as some might think, But we are not equipped with the same tools as our law enforcement brothers and sisters that they use for the types of situations and environments they go into. The same way they do not have the proper equipment for the types of environments we go into. With EMS not only is situational awareness important for safety reasons, but it is also for privacy reasons. I once had a PNB (Patient with pulse but not breathing, usually cardiac arrest, overdose, etc.) that occurred on the front lawn of the patients home. Being aware of neighbors and people passing by pulling out their phones to record, we quickly moved the patient into the ambulance for privacy’s sake.

Common Red Flags

Some red flags I personally like to keep an eye on are things like my location, what are some hazards around me. Whether it’s a pothole where I can twist my foot to a thousand yard stare from a person. If I have a patient that is very agitated, constantly pulling away if I am trying to help, I will immediately stop. If violence breaks out, my partner and I will find safety. Personal safety is our first priority as should be yours.


It is so to do everything in our power to keep ourselves safe and healthy above all else. Yes it is our duty to serve the public, but we also have a duty to our families to make it back home in one piece. Take classes like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since it’s both virtually available in every city, and it focuses on being in control of another person, even if you are on your back.

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