Columbus, Ohio – The Columbus Fire Division has taken away city-issued handguns from three firefighters and is reviewing its outdated use-of-force policy.
Fire Chief Greg Paxton took guns from two firefighters last week after determining that they did not need the guns to perform their duties, city officials said. A third firefighter’s gun was taken away in the past year after the office of the city’s public safety director determined that his duties had changed and did not warrant his having a gun.
None of the firefighters is accused of wrongdoing.
Firefighters with guns might seem unusual, but it’s not. Members of the division’s bomb squad and its anti-terrorism and arson-investigation units have city-issued guns because they have the power to make arrests and have received proper certification, Fire Division officials said.
But public safety officials are concerned that firefighters who are equipped with guns but who don’t need them to perform their jobs are putting the city and taxpayers at unnecessary risk.
“We are in the process of reviewing our gun policy and have been doing so for a few months,” Battalion Chief Michael Fowler said. “We want to make sure that the policy is our own and pertains to our job descriptions.”
The guns taken away last week were from two firefighters who are members of an anti-terrorism task force and handle infrastructure plans, said city Deputy Public Safety Director George Speaks.
The other gun was taken from Assistant Chief Karry Ellis, who used to be in charge of the arson-investigation unit.
Fowler said he did not know the names of the firefighters on the anti-terrorism task force. Paxton is on vacation this week and was unavailable to comment.
Departments in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo, among others, also equip arson investigators with guns.
Like police officers, firefighters who carry guns are required to earn annual recertification through an Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy that is certified by the Ohio attorney general’s office.
Paxton’s update of the gun policy probably will mirror federal and state protocols established since 9/11. He also will determine whether guns are necessary for other members of the bomb squad or the anti-terrorism and arson units.
Jack Reall, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67, could not be reached for comment.
At least one firefighter said at a recent community meeting on the city’s South Side that Paxton, who was named fire chief in June, was disbanding the arson-investigation unit and planned to take away members’ guns.
People who heard that sent emails to city officials asking for an explanation.
“Chief Paxton had a conversation with those folks in the community and set the record straight,” Speaks said. “The firefighter specifically misspoke, and that was a bad rumor going around because we have no intention of disbanding the arson unit.”
City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. declined to say whether the department’s outdated policy put the city at risk of lawsuits or complaints if a firefighter fired a gun. “I will say that having a policy in place would be a good thing,” he said.