Police, fire, EMS train together for the unthinkable
Lord Baltimore Elementary School was quite busy last week. The school was not filled with young kids, but rather a slew of emergency-services personnel who were getting hands-on training for critical situations.
“Rescue Task Force training is, in the event of any active violence event — whether it’s a shooting, a bombing, vehicle-borne attack, whatever it is — EMS can integrate with the police officers and provide medical care to the injured more quickly,” explained Andrew Vickers of the Sussex County Paramedics.
Vickers said that, in the past, EMS would wait in a staged area while police officers cleared an area of a threat completely, before allowing medical help to enter.
“What we’ve learned is a lot of lives have been lost because we were waiting,” Vickers said. “The thought process is we could train the police officers to do medical care, but they don’t do it every day. We want to get the best medical care to the patient as quickly as possible.”
“Police officers in Delaware are now trained to actively go to the shooter,” added Ocean View Police Department Sgt. Rhys Bradshaw. “The first arriving police officers, when they arrive on-scene, they’re not waiting for a backup or a SWAT team to show up. They’re immediately going in to engage that threat.”
The three-day training included personnel from the Bethany Beach Fire Volunteer Fire Company, Millville Volunteer Fire Company, Sussex County EMS, Bethany Beach Police Department, Ocean View Police Department and Sussex County security.
Vickers said coastal Sussex is one of the few areas in the country that has adopted this type of training from the Arlington Fire Department in Arlington, Va.
As part of the training, personnel learn how to communicate between agencies, move together as a unit and a variety of rescue rope drag techniques, among other things.
“We take this time in training to become familiar with each other’s equipment and bags, because everybody comes to the table with different experiences,” said Vickers. Those going through training also work on wound-packing, using tennis balls and whiffle footballs to keep training costs down.
Cindy Blades of the Millville VFC’s Fire Police has been in the fire company for 27 years; however, last week was her first time going through RTF training.
“I give all the EMS firefighters credit for what they do. It takes heart and dedication to do the job. Paramedics, EMS and fire service — I don’t know what we’d do without them. They just don’t get enough appreciation.”
Those participating also go over various types of tourniquets and practice applying them to various limbs of differently-sized patients.
Vickers said Sussex County EMS is a big proponent of the Stop the Bleed Campaign, which, according to its website, notes that trauma is the leading cause of death for Americans younger than 46. To keep on top of their game, Vickers said, EMS conduct drills.
“We go over the application of tourniquets quite extensively. The idea is to get familiar enough with it that you can get it on within seconds of contact with the patient,” said Vickers. “A person can bleed out within five minutes with an arterial bleed. We really want to get to the patient’s side as quickly as possible… Our goal is always 10 seconds or less.”
During the training, the paramedics also wear their body-armor vests, which Vickers said they keep with them at all times.
“It’s mandatory for EMS to wear vests on events of this nature — violent events, civil unrest events, domestic disturbances. If we’re dispatched to overdoses, now it’s highly encouraged that we wear these. Now it’s gotten to the point where we’re wearing our vests quite frequently.”
During the training, personnel were also run through three different live-action scenarios. Groups maneuvered outside, working on making movements when in a more hostile environment, using different objects for cover or concealment.
Inside, the sounds of alarms, people screaming and making noise plays on a sound system to simulate what the emergency services personnel may be subjected to during a real emergency response.
“We make it as realistic as we can so that, God forbid, something like this happens… We train so we can go into autopilot in these situations — we do what we need to do,” said Bradshaw.
Two scenarios were run inside the school — one was assisting and removing injured bystanders in a stairwell, while another was to assist two injured patients while a shooter was down the hall.
Davis Watson, 9, whose father, John Watson, is the EMS chief for the MVFC, said he plans to follow his dad’s career in emergency services. Out of school for the summer, he assisted by playing the part of one of the injured victims in a live scenario.
“When there’s an active shooter, I’ve learned you dive into cover, and once you find the patients, pull them out as quick as possible and get them to cover so you can treat them,” he said.
After each scenario, the team was debriefed — with a discussion of what could be improved, potential alternative actions and what was spot-on.
Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin, who served as an instructor, as well as a simulated victim, in one of the scenarios, made a point to tell the trainees to be aware of everything in their surroundings — no matter how benign it may appear.
“We’re trying to be as real as possible, so everyone understands the potential threats. Every one of those backpacks is a suspected IED, until they’re deemed safe. You can imagine, in a high school setting, in particular, with a lot of kids running around with backpacks, everyone drops those — we don’t know which one may contain a bomb, for example.
“We’re going to be navigating an environment filled with trip hazards… Carrying somebody, even a student, some of them are 6 feet, 6 inches and 250 pounds… So trying to move somebody, especially long distances, with these types of hazards — we might not be able to drag them… We may have to pick them up. Our goal is to make it as realistic as possible. We’re improving every year.”
Preparation is key, said McLaughlin, noting that having the organizations work together is vital.
“We’re responsible to the community to make sure that we have some level of preparedness to be able to respond to a mass-casualty-type of event,” he said. “Coordinating with our local fire and EMS is absolutely vital. The more training we can do like this, the more prepared we’re going to be — God forbid, if we ever have a scenario like this we have to respond to.”
Vickers said that the RTF training is an annual training event and that all organizations involved would love to do more training.
“Every day, we work close together. We’re now taking that close relationship that we have every single day, and we’re saying ‘what if,’ and ‘when, if’ this drastic situation happens, how are we going to respond? How are we going to be prepared?”
“It’s important to know how the other operates,” added Bradshaw. “That the police know how the fire operates, the fire knows how the police operate — so if something like this does happen, we fall back on our training. When I say something to the firemen, they know what I’m talking about — move here, hold here. So, we can get the language down. That’s why it’s important for us to practice together.”