Rethinking Active Violence Response-LE, Fire & EMS together.

Officers from multiple agencies practice together in Protective Escort and Rescue Team concepts with the local Fire and EMS. A makeshift building has been made using scene tape, cones, and a few objects to tie the tape to. Everyone was able to practice hallways, various intersections, and room entries for extremely low cost, and makes a great training option.

I remember when I was a kid in elementary school I would occasionally have to go out into the hallway to kneel down against the concrete wall and crouch down with my hands covering my head. We’d do this once or twice a year, definitely during the spring time. We would do another drill probably about three to four times a year where we all had to file outside no matter the temperature to line up at the edge of the playground. After a few minutes we would file back in and sit back down. These drills sometimes happened when we were in the middle of something I was having fun doing, and never seemed to save me when we were involved in filling in bubbles in those long, tedious Iowa basic tests. Tornado and fire drills were a fact of life at schools. Teachers and staff were entrusted to care for us for our parents, so periodic, regular practice was done in the procedures and routes to take should a tornado bear down on our school or an orderly evacuation of hundreds of children be needed for safety. Those drills have saved countless lives. To my knowledge, the last child killed by a fire in a school was in the 1950’s thanks to modern building codes, fire suppression systems, and regular evacuation drills should a fire still develop. The violence and destruction of a tornado is harder to predict, as evidenced by the destructive tornado that ravaged just outside Oklahoma City in the suburb of Moore, Oklahoma on May 21, 2013. That tornado killed 51 people, 20 of the victims children when their school received extensive damage from the winds. Tornado drills and staff saved a great many more. The incident was a massive tragedy and thankfully such destruction of a school when our children are there is extremely rare. But as rare as they may be, the drills are still dutifully practiced by Teachers and their classes of children.

Active violence that comes to our schools, businesses, and anyplace else that a perpetrator deems a target can appear similar to how a tornado can form in the sky and drop anyplace to begin wreaking a path of death. Contrary to media coverage, active violence incidents stretch back to at least to the 1927 Bath Township, Michigan incident. 44 victims were killed and 58 injured when the murderer pre-positioned hundreds of pounds of explosives in the school, and detonated them in two separate acts targeting children and responders. The incident involved planning and motives that bear strikingly similar mindsets that are going on today, and it is worth ones time to read about it. The murderer at the Bath school, who I do not wish to memorialize by naming, set incendiary fires to draw firefighters away from his target as a distraction. He detonated the first set of explosives by timer fifteen minutes after school started, and arrived on scene about thirty-minutes later with an explosive and shrapnel-laden truck that also exploded in the midst of everyone.

Fire Departments and EMS have had policies for years dealing with not entering scenes of violence until the scene is deemed ‘safe’ by law enforcement personnel. Reasons for this are sound. Law Enforcement’s job involves stopping violence with the tools that they have, much like Fire’s job at a scene of a HazMat situation are to make the scene safe for Law Enforcement that have investigation duties. We all work together despite rivalries and differing job focuses. This is important, because a lot of Fire and EMS mindsets and policies are currently at a point that is identical to 1999 training and mindset “Establish a perimeter and wait for SWAT” mentality that Law Enforcement was heavily criticized for after Columbine in Littleton, CO.

I’ve been involved with Active Shooter topics since 1999 when Columbine occurred. I’ve attended every training course I could, practiced responses with fellow LEO’s when I could, studied what I could from past and current incidents, written policy and protocols, and conducted training for multiple agencies in Active Shooter responses. I’ve talked with local Firefighter command staffs at both the Incident Command as well as NIMS training everyone has been forced to attend, and picked the brains of those Firefighter’s as well as EMT’s what their responses and duties would be using Active Shooters for IC/NIMS examples. Common thinking at the time has been that LE needs to first stop the threat, and then clear the location to make sure that the scene is safe for Fire and EMS to be able to enter. Until then, LE developed the mentality of bring what victims they can out to the inner perimeter for treatment. This is personnel INTENSIVE, and will strain what personnel are available for most rural communities should this type of incident occur to them. It also fails to address Fire duties that may be present. I was recently at an instructor-level training conducted by Muddy Boots Tactical from the Tampa Bay area in Florida. Run by Mike Killian and several other instructors, all with decades of current experience in Law Enforcement and Fire responses, the Muddy Boots crew put LE, Fire, EMS and Dispatchers all together in a room where, unbeknownst to us, we were going to get shown each other’s worlds. What we quickly learned through practical exercises and numerous, well designed and complex scenarios is where to integrate LE, Fire, and EMS responses sooner to manage active violence incidents. Several light bulbs went off when we as LEO’s realized that there could be fire present or other reason’s Firefighter’s NEED to enter the structure. How does this get accomplished?

Law Enforcement has trained in escorting EMS into “Warm Zones” ever since they’ve worked with the Diamond formations. Periodic and regular training between LE and Fire/EMS helps build that trust that LE is not going to purposely take them into a “Hot” area that has an active threat.

Law Enforcement has trained in formations meant to escort various numbers of unarmed rescue personnel inside scenes from the start of modern Active Shooter protocols. They differentiate from their “Hot Zone” involving the active threat versus their “Warm Zone,” meaning that while the scene is not completely safe for those that are unarmed, it is safe enough to enter and get some of the vital rescue jobs done. Law Enforcement is ready to take whomever in that needs to. They had to change their doctrine, policies, mindsets, etc… in order to get past the obsolete training of waiting for SWAT to handle the bad things. LEO’s had to change their thinking from that it wasn’t their job and that it was too dangerous to go in, to one of they may be entering a structure all by themselves to seek out a single or multiple threats actively killing people, even if help will be many minutes away.

I’ve run into the similar responses of “It’s too dangerous, I’m not going in there!” from various EMS personnel I’ve talked to. I recently saw a Firefighter leave an Active Violence training I was asked to help conduct for his fire department because he didn’t feel it was important enough or a realistic expectation. Reasons for such responses vary, from fear of harm’s way, to egos between agencies, to indifference or disbelief that such an incident could occur in their area. I wonder if the small, rural school that experienced an Active Shooter in 2006 that is located 100 miles from the apathetic Firefighter thought something would happen to their school. Or if any of the places an Active Shooter occurred thought it would happen at their place. The statement everyone says in response is that they didn’t think it could happen to them.

Fortunately, I think that the numbers of Firefighters or EMS that would fail to enter a warm zone are in a minority. Firefighters enter burning buildings, something I wouldn’t do. So I know the courage is there. Most of the emergency personnel I have worked with were very open to the ideas of working together once they were exposed to some of the same information that Law Enforcement has. Fire and EMS need to be proactive in changing their policies and protocols on these type incidents to be able to work with Law Enforcement so everyone can begin what they’re tasked at doing.

Along those lines, there also needs to be training together. If there is a fire present in the building, LEO’s may be tasked with safely escorting Firefighters through the scene to reach the fire. Firefighters need to be able to teach LEO’s how to don protective masks and the air tanks for their safety during the protective escort. LEO’s need to be aware of the equipment and how it would interface with their duty belts, concealable armor, or plate carriers and helmets. This interaction and integrating the different responses is how situational problems can be identified and solved by Fire, Law Enforcement, and EMS personnel.

What happens if a fire has been set or starts at the scene of Active Violence? Obviously, Fire needs to get in to do its job, but they also need to be protected up to the point where they can start work. LE needs to stay safe, and to do that they will need to wear protective air packs and masks from the fire department. This makes for a great, inexpensive training session that can build positive relationships, as Firefighters need to show LE how the tanks work and help them make sure they know ahead of time how it will interface with their own duty belts and protective gear. It’s good to do drills like these before they’re needed for real, and it doesn’t take much to do them.

To close, agencies and departments need to make sure that any politics, egos, and negative attitudes are resolved, nipped in the bud, and hatchets are buried. Petty egos and hurt pride over small things that frequently look like childhood arguments on the playground need to be addressed by admin staff, and that staff needs to take an additional leadership stance of addressing negativity within their departments when it happens. Feelings may be hurt, but in the end, it’s a job, a profession, and the job has to be done. If the job cannot be done professionally to offer whatever assistance is needed, it hurts the entire ability to respond to such an incident. I wouldn’t want to be identified as a member of an agency that was shown to delay responses where people are injured because of pettiness that led to incompetence. Those want to continue their negativity will need to be disciplined and assigned where it minimizes any damage they can do to the department. Not everyone is suited for the important work, and there is always a need for traffic direction somewhere.

There will be no shortage of work to do at an Active Violence incident. We all have a job to do, and the sooner we understand each others jobs, roles, and needs, the sooner we can work together to help get the jobs done for the public that needs it desperately at that time.

Scenarios involving role-players and set up by trainers or instructors can be excellent value in developing positive attitudes amongst the different agencies. This scenario deals with a victim that needs to be treated in a warm zone, and the LE Protective Escort was reminded to keep alert while protecting their medics in case the situation could change and a suspect threat is now in your immediate area. The courses I’ve taken with Muddy Boots Tactical have always been strong with the ability to develop realistic, practical, and simple scenarios that really drive points home.

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