Local fire officials, senator hesitant about bill that would allow firefighters, EMTs to carry guns

A bill filed in Tennessee’s legislature could allow firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to carry handguns when they’re on duty.

The bill is making its way through the state Senate.

Earlier this month, lawmakers sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said it’s a bill that had his full support until he heard an EMT’s perspective Tuesday morning.

“They said the difficulty with this is if they walked into those situations with a weapon strapped on their waists, they are going to be perceived in a completely different way,” Lundberg said over the phone. “In many ways, I think they’re right.”

Lundberg said he thinks if this bill is going to move forward, the handguns need to be concealed.

Kingsport Fire Assistant Chief of Operations Jim Everhart said the bill comes with concerns.

“It seems like this bill is easy, it’s kind of self-explanatory but it’s really not,” Everhart said. “This is a very complicated situation.”

Everhart said he has concerns about how to safely secure the gun while firefighters are fighting a fire.

The bill requires firefighters and EMTs to complete eight hours of training each year, but Everhart said he would want firefighters to have similar training to law enforcement officers.

“For myself and for our department, I think there would be other measures we would take prior to considering firearms,” Everhart said.

While some departments are hesitant, Carter County Emergency Agency Director Gary Smith said he wishes emergency management agencies were being considered in the bill.

With some of Carter County’s remote locations, Smith said the additional layer of protection would be helpful.

“In the event where you’re in a very remote location, you don’t have good communications,” Smith said. “You don’t have cell phone coverage so if you’re out there and you’re the final person on the scene and someone has ill intent then you’re pretty much at their mercy.” 

Smith said he’s brought the concern to the Emergency Manager Association of Tennessee (EMAT) but they have not taken a position on it yet. 

Sen. Lundberg said he plans to talk to other agencies to get different perspectives before he makes a final decision. 

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