On Jan. 5, Illinois State Police began accepting permit applications after Illinois became the last state in the country to allow carrying concealed firearms.
Five months before those permit applications were accepted, local fire departments were looking at the law and considering the changes it would mean for first responders. It would be a violation of the law for a first responder to take possession of a firearm if they do not possess a FOID card.
“Six months ago I spoke with [Morris Police] Chief [Brent] Dite and [Grundy County] Sheriff Kevin Callahan about the conceal-carry law,” Chief Tracey Steffes of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District said. “We feel it is the best approach to have an officer come to the scene to secure the weapon.”
For Mazon’s volunteer fire department, the law could make a big difference for them. They recently held a gun safety class to educate members to the law and the handling of guns.
“A lot of our membership have an FOID card,” Mazon Fire Department Chief Mark Brookman said. “Other members may respond to a scene and they won’t be able to remove the gun before treating the patient.”
Brookman said his department hasn’t come across someone carrying a gun who required treatment, so it will become a new situation for them.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” Steffes said. “It’s going to be the same challenge regardless of the size of the department, but a larger fire department will likely deal with it more often. We handle more cases, so our chances are higher.”
Dite said this is not new to Illinois. People with conceal-carry permits from other states were allowed to travel through the state as long as they weren’t staying here to do business. Also, there has been a conceal-carry permit for some retired police professionals through the Illinois Retired Officer Conceal-Carry Program.
Area fire departments discussed installing lock boxes in ambulances to safely secure a gun found on a person being treated. However, Steffes said after careful consideration he is not in favor of this idea.
“Having a FOID card doesn’t mean you are proficient in every weapon,” Steffes said. “The last thing we want is to have a firefighter or EMT have an accidental discharge.
“I’m not concerned with the concealed-carry permit, but the idea of someone not familiar with it, not properly trained handling it, scares me more than anything.”
Both the Mazon Fire Department and Morris Fire Department will be adding additional questions to ask their conscious patients to find out if they have a concealed weapon. If they do, the patient will be asked to unload it and make it safe. If the patient is unconscious, they will look for a concealed weapon as they check for injuries.
“The EMT or paramedic will find it with a body check,” Steffes said. “If they are doing a proper assessment, they will find the weapon.”
Police officers or sheriff deputies then will be called to the scene of an accident or fire to take possession of any firearm found.
Steffes said he’s heard some of the conceal-carry trainers tell students, who are working toward getting their permit, that they are risking not being treated if they have a weapon on them when they are injured or become ill.
“If it is a rapid transport and an officer can’t get to the scene, we will still load the transport and meet the police at the hospital where they can take possession,” Steffes said. “It’s not fair to the patient if we told them we are going to delay service if they are carrying. We are not going to delay service. It is our job to save lives.”
During the recent gun safety training at the Mazon fire department by Brookman, he showed attendees how to safely disarm several different types of weapons.
He said he was treating the class as he would any of the classes he teaches as a firearms instructor. That included listing the four main rules of gun safety: Treat all weapons as if loaded, never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot, keep the trigger finger indexed until ready to shoot and always point the gun down range.
“I wanted to know for my own safety,” EMT Kristen Webster said. “I don’t want to accidentally shoot someone.”