Shotguns, hatchets, strange incidents part of Sacramento firefighters’ fight

Departments encountering bursts of weirdness lately

First-responder firefighters have been the target of bizarre aggression lately.

First-responder firefighters have been the target of bizarre aggression lately.

When it comes to Sacramento’s sketchy urban jungle, sometimes a drunk with a gun is the toughest fire to put out.

In recent weeks, city fire personnel encountered a conflagration of aggro behavior from the very folks they were often trying to help.

A shotgun was pointed, punches were landed and at least one hatchet was waved atop a fire engine, sending otherwise burly firefighters back a few steps, Sacramento fire officials report.

The violent confrontations are worrisome at a time when there’s seemingly more encounters between first-responders and unpredictable individuals in unpredictable situations. Sacramento police officers have themselves been responding to more medical-aid calls involving erratic, sometimes violent behavior, police records show.

Nationally, 37 firefighters died while on duty this year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

While tragic, fire fatalities are at least an acknowledged risk for the profession. But being a firefighter is proving dangerous business for reasons having little to do with fire. Heart attacks and strokes accounted for 49 percent of last year’s on-duty deaths, while six New York firefighters were fatally shot in Webster last year.

Fire staff often get called out to the same scenes that draw law enforcement, said Lloyd Ogan, deputy chief of operations at the Sacramento Fire Department. There isn’t always a lot of information from reporting parties to prepare first responders for what they’re walking into.

On May 26, this double-blind involved four local firefighters showing up to a neighbor’s house to follow up on a minor illegal-burning complaint.

Upon arriving to the 1400 block of Birchwood Lane in south Sacramento that Sunday night, an intoxicated 61-year-old man exited his house with a shotgun, shouting that he had “the right to defend his property or something,” Ogan recalled. “Which was unrelated to us, because we weren’t on his property.”

Ogan said one of his firefighters tried to defuse the situation with the agitated subject, identified by police as Richard Stevenson, who allegedly put down the firearm and went into his home, but reappeared. The firefighter tackled Stevenson when he turned and started walking toward the weapon.

Officers cited and released Stevenson after taking him to the hospital for minor injuries sustained in the fall, police logs state.

He has yet to be officially charged by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office. Spokeswoman Shelly Orio said the arrest reports hadn’t been submitted to her office yet.

One arrest that did stick occurred a day earlier on the 2100 block of J Street, where an intoxicated driver accelerated through a red light, struck a taxi van, sideswiped another car and then slammed into the back of a parked fire engine.

The engine was there responding to a medical-aid call, Ogan said, and positioned so as to protect the ambulance nearby, which is standard procedure.

After bashing into all those vehicles, the driver reportedly exited the car and struggled with personnel at the scene.

Vehicular collisions accounted for 18 firefighter deaths nationally in 2012, representing a four-fold increase over the previous year, the USFA states.

The May 25 crash-and-grab wasn’t as weird as what happened the same day at a nearby fire house, where a man with a hatchet entered the garage, climbed atop of one of the engines and started swinging. Police detained the man after he left the fire house, Ogan said.

There were also two separate incidents on May 19, in which fire-department employees, responding to medical calls, were greeted with closed fists by those they were trying to assist.

One scuffle occurred at the actual scene of the call, while the other took place in a hospital, when department paramedics waited to transfer their patient into hospital care. One paramedic suffered a minor injury to his face, police logs state.

“It’s not unusual for us to have some minor skirmish just because of the nature of the business we’re involved in,” Ogan shared. “I’ve been doing this 30 years, and that’s the way they come, in little bursts.”

It is something he hopes doesn’t start happening more often on the job.

“Time is just going to have to bear that out,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to pay attention to.”

Ogan said his people are trained to have good situational awareness. The firefighter who talked the shotgun out of an agitated homeowner’s hands was a good example of that.

“We work with law enforcement to protect our people as best we can,” he added. “But at the same time, I have a duty to help the people, too, so it’s a fine line that we walk.”

The USFA tallied 83 on-duty firefighter deaths in both 2012 and 2011. Five firefighters died in California last year.