THOUGHTS ON THE SANDY HOOK MASSACRE
A NOTE FROM JEMS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF A.J. HEIGHTMAN, MPA, EMT-P
>> CONTINUED FROM PAGE 16
The shooting and killing of 26 innocent children and staff at Sandy Hook
Elementary School in the peaceful, beautiful town of Newtown, Conn., 45 miles
southwest of Hartford and 60 miles northeast of New York City, causes us all to
take pause and wonder how such a tragedy can happen.
Those of us in the emergency community think of the responders—the tragic
and grisly scene they were forced to endure—and we feel the desire to reach out,
pat them on the back and let them know our thoughts and prayers are with them.
It appears that the shooter was shooting randomly and had a purposeful
attack plan. Many are trying to make sense of this tragedy and wonder what
they would do if an attack of this nature took place in their community.
This type of attack has occurred before and will be replicated again. School
shootings have become commonplace for myriad reasons: Revenge on bullying,
retribution on teachers and administrators, and by individuals who are out to
make a strong statement.
But what few people know is that terrorism and mass casualty experts have
predicted this type of mass killing spree (and scores larger) for years—and for
a reason we all dread hearing—that terror organizations have been espousing
that, if you want to make a statement and bring a country to its knees, kill
In my MCI classes, I discuss the little-known incident that occurred in
Beslan School Number One (SNO) in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia (an
autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation)
on Sept. 1, 2004. It was a premeditated terrorist assault planned for the first
day of school, when it was customary for parents, siblings and grandparents
to accompany their school-aged children back to school for the start of the
new school year.
PERSONAL USE OF COMPANY EQUIPMEN T
Where does the line get drawn with regard to the personal use of com- pany equipment and supplies? A certain amount of personal use of an
employer’s “stuff” seems to be common and accepted practice these days.
For instance, the use of a workplace computer to check sports scores or order
from an online merchant is a regular occurrence in American workplaces. But
what about some of the relatively expensive equipment found in the EMS
workplace? For instance, what are the rules when it comes to using one of
your employer’s ambulances to stop at the store for a few personal items, or
to swing by your child’s soccer game?
The first rule is that there are no hard and fast rules—those are set by each
employer. No state laws of which we are aware would regulate what can and
cannot be done with an ambulance or other EMS equipment when it’s not
engaged in active EMS operations.
There may be laws, regulations or policies that require on-duty ambulances
to remain in a specified coverage zone or operating area. Certainly there could
be consequences for violating these requirements. Otherwise, so long as the
agency is not violating any rules regarding vehicle deployment, this would not
pose a legal barrier to occasional personal use of a company vehicle.
Where the bigger issue comes into play, however, is whether the employee
is violating the employer’s policies with regard to the personal use of company equipment. If an employer permits employees to use ambulances or
other company vehicles for occasional, minor personal errands, then that is
up to the employer. On the other hand, if the employer has a “zero tolerance”
policy, prohibiting the use of company vehicles for any personal use, then
the employer would likely be within its rights to discipline or terminate an
employee for such conduct.
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If the workplace is unionized, discipline
for violating any such rules would have to
be resolved with reference to the collective
bargaining agreement in place between the
union and the employer.
Extra caution should be taken when the
vehicles, equipment or other supplies belong to a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. State and federal laws generally prohibit “private inurement”—that
is—using tax-exempt assets to benefit specific individuals.
Although an occasional trip to the store would likely not catch the attention of the IRS, regular use of nonprofit assets for private benefit could very
well become an issue that could even jeopardize the tax-exempt status of an
Although occasional use of an ambulance or other vehicle is one thing,
the “pilfering” of supplies for personal use is another issue altogether. Taking
one band-aid out of the jump kit is commonplace, and probably would be
OK with most employers, but helping yourself to supplies needed to stock
your personal jump kit would be something else entirely. Again, the rules are
ultimately up to the employer, but few employers would tolerate the theft of
company supplies in this fashion.
The bottom line is that employers should take the time to write clear and
workable policies on this issue—and then employees would be well-served to
follow those policies. If no written policy is in place, but employers knowingly
permit or tolerate the use of vehicles or equipment, then that might create
a de facto policy permitting it. A clear written policy removes the guesswork
for both parties.
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