Responding to Violent Protests

Especially after the protests following the recent election of Donald Trump, you may be getting a feeling that you’re reliving the days of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Many of these protests have unfortunately turned into full-scale violent riots – including pepper spraying, effigy burning and window smashing.

Unfortunately, EMS responders have been the targets of bricks, bottles and even Molotov cocktails when responding to such situations. In light of this, it’s a good time for EMTs to brush up on how to best respond to emergencies at the site of a violent protest, especially in places like New York, where protests are a frequent occurrence.

Anticipating the Violence

The first step to proper response is always preparation – and part of that is recognizing when events are likely to turn violent. Some of the most common are:

  • Peaceful demonstrations
  • Planned political conventions (interrupted by activists)
  • Racially charged events (i.e. police shooting of a minority)
  • College campus sporting events

Advance Preparation

Though management planning is not an EMT requirement, you can approach the management at your agency before such events and double check to make sure they’re prepared with:

  • Extra staffing and equipment
  • Method of communication with other agencies that would be involved

In many cases, your agency may create task forces to ensure proper coordination and safety for everyone involved.

EMT Personal Preparation

What you can do on your own is prepare yourself, your ambulance and your equipment for the special circumstances.

  • Make sure you have a helmet and a clearly marked EMS jacket at all times
  • Remove any axes, hooks or poles that are accessible to outsiders
  • Remove scissors or sharp instruments from your pockets and equipment bags
  • Place duct tape on the windows of your vehicle in an “X” shape
  • Expect to see many patients with abrasions, sprains, lacerations, tear gas exposures and breathing difficulties. Prepare your equipment appropriately.


Once the violence has begun and calls start coming in, never respond before making sure you’ll be safe.

  • Make sure your dispatcher has confirmed with police that the area is secure.
  • Once on the scene, seek out a law enforcement individual to confirm that you are in a safe zone.
  • Do not enter the scene if there are no law enforcement agencies around
  • Feel free to request police assistance if worried that a patient will turn violent
  • Be prepared to abandon the scene at the first sign of danger
  • Move in and out quickly – only basic patient assessment. More thorough assessments will have to wait until you and the patient are both secure.

No matter how passionate you are about saving lives, never forget to put your own safety first. It’s not worth risking your life to treat someone’s broken leg or burn.