CONCORD— With officers covering them, firefighters made their way into a hallway at Cannon School to search for victims. The goal was to get in and get the injured out quickly to save as many lives as possible.
The City of Concord emergency services conducted mass casualty incident training at the school while its students were on spring break. The training focused on the rescue task force (RTF) concept which emphasizes providing medical aid quickly to those injured as the result of a mass casualty incident.
“Columbine was really the first time people started to see that there were patients who died after fire and EMS were on scene,” Josh Simpson, battalion chief with the Concord Fire Department, said. “If we are able to get in there as soon as we arrive that’s going to speed up, it’s what we call the Golden Hour. It’s a rule we have in EMS and fire that you basically have an hour from initiation of the trauma to get them the proper care that they need.”
The rescue task force is a combined team of firefighters and police officers that are inserted into a location while an incident is still unfolding. The task force is one component of the overall unified response to a mass casualty incident.
The City of Concord implemented and began training the rescue task concept in 2017 as a way to jointly improve response in the community.
With the recent school shooting incidents in the news, Sgt. Brian Schiele with the Concord Police Department said this type of training is extremely valuable so fire and police will be geared mentally to respond appropriately if an event like that happens in Concord.
Schiele said while active shooter training and rapid deployment response training is valuable, those miss the part about what responders should do after the actual violence is over. So this other training allows police and firefighters to learn to operate as one cohesive unit with a single goal in mind, to mitigate casualties.
“It’s difficult to watch and hear about, but unfortunately a lot of times in law enforcement and I know it’s probably the same sometimes in the fire life safety areas; a lot of times we get the test before we get the lesson,” Schiele said. “But we watch, we listen, we learn, we take what we can from those unfortunate incidents and you start to mentally prepare ourselves for the what-if on our side.”
The training helps responders get an overall game plan and idea of how they should respond, even though Schiele said no too mass casualty events are the same. He said that’s why conducting the training at Cannon is beneficial because many of the personnel didn’t know the layout prior to entering the building.
“It adds an element of realism using Cannon. Instead of maybe roping off a room with cones and barrier tape, we’ve got actual rooms to enter. We’ve got actual doors to open. We can be a little more realistic to where we place simulated victims and it allows both departments to be able to utilize their equipment as they would,” Schiele said.
While learning the process and gearing up mentally to respond to such a horrific event is valuable, Schiele and Simpson agree that the biggest positive of the training is blending the two agencies together.
As they walked through the hallways in search of casualties, officers and firefighters were encouraged to communicate with one another by the trainer.
“The biggest thing we want to do is make sure we’re working as a team, and make sure we understand how each other is going to be working. It doesn’t matter what building we’re in, if we can take those same tactics and techniques, it’s universal across every building,” Simpson said.
When asked how he felt about his fire personnel going into the building unarmed, Simpson said there is always a risk when going into what emergency personnel classify as a warm zone. That means the suspect isn’t necessarily there anymore nut responders aren’t sure if the threat is over.
He used the Columbine High School shooting as an example of an incident where the shooter also set up fire bombs and explosive devices.
“So we don’t know those things and it is a risk, but at the same time we risk our lives going into burning buildings, we risk our lives going into swift water, we risk our lives going to vehicle accidents on the interstate,” Simpson said. “So to me this is really no different. We are risking our lives for our citizens to try and give them the best care we can.”
He also added that it’s the job of police officers to keep his firefighters save, another reason why it’s so valuable to learn how to work together.
“The best we can do is try to fine-tune this stuff in advance. We are trying to be proactive instead of reactive. We are trying to do those kind of things in advance,” Simpson said.
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