Earlier this month, a Dallas firefighter-paramedic was shot while responding to a call. Dozens of firefighters, paramedics and police officers joined forces to not only transport the wounded firefighter-paramedic, but to also find the suspect.
Two days after the shooting, Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief David Coatney held a press conference regarding the incident. At the conference, Chief Coatney said the wounded firefighter-paramedic was not wearing body armor when a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle shot him. The body armor, according to Chief Coatney, is only given to Dallas paramedics in limited situations.
"We don't carry the body armor on the actual rescue units," Chief Coatney told NBC DFW. "They are contained in other response vehicles that come to the scenes."
The incident in Dallas is just one example among an unfortunate amount of others. And because incidents like this are happening in both rural and urban areas, gone are the days of waiting for a SWAT team to clear a scene before entering and providing care.
Active shooters and rescue task forces
DSM Dyneema, a manufacturer of material used by body armor companies, launched a nationwide education campaign during EMS Week. The multi-year campaign aims to raise awareness about the emerging threats facing today's responders, how a rescue task force response model works and what equipment and armor technology is available to keep responders safe while on scene.
Patrick Smith, with Dyneema, and Greg Chapman, director of prehospital medicine at Carolinas Medical Center, discussed why basic trauma care should be provided during active shooter situations in the warm zone.
"We're not talking about implementing advanced life support; we're just talking about basic trauma care," Chapman said. "That means stopping the bleeding, putting a tourniquet on, sealing a chest wound and positioning the airway. Then we can start doing triage and establish a casualty collection point to move the patients who are in need of care out of that area and to local trauma centers."
However, providing that level of patient care while in the warm zone has been heavily debated among fire and EMS providers. And even though one size does not fit all for the development of rescue task forces, Chapman recommended that all agencies – both rural and urban – have a plan in place if a worst case scenario were to happen.
"There's an old saying, 'Failing to plan is planning to fail,'" Chapman said. "If you decide that you're not going to have a rescue task force, and that you're not going to plan for an active shooter and how you're going to deal with that, I hope your community never has an active shooter event. A lot of these active shooter situations happen in rural America, they don't just happen in the city."
At the event, all three areas of public safety – police, fire and EMS – weighed in on the pros and cons of developing a rescue task force during a roundtable discussion.
'Putting responders in harm's way'
The majority of the barriers discussed were the need for training, funding to be able to afford training and funding for the equipment itself.
"We shouldn't be putting our responders in harm's way without giving them adequate personal protection," Chapman said. "You wouldn't think about sending EMTs and paramedics into a trauma call without gloves and a face shield. And we shouldn't be thinking about sending anyone into a situation where there's a possibility of gunfire without proper ballistics protection."
For some, the hurdles of training, funding and equipment can be overcome. However, some agencies may get caught up on the advocacy and education side.
"Equipment needs to evolve with the threats that have emerged," Smith said. "But there also needs to be some training about what equipment is needed and how to use it. Just how rescue task forces can't be a 'one size fits all', neither can equipment."
And with the ever-changing nature of active shooter situations, Chapman said responders should be wearing a ballistics protection vest every day.
"If you're out of the station, you need to be wearing your vest because you never know when a call is going to go bad," he said. "When you start a shift, you obviously don't think that you're going to encounter a weapon, but you can and you might."
With that in mind, the campaign's "Emerging Threats for First Responders" launch, according to Smith, shed important light on the challenges responders face.
"Older technology has been rejected in the past simply because they get in the way," Smith said. "However, some of the newer technology will enable not only protection, but protection that maintains the ability to do the job safely and effectively. We want to create training and education content that can help close those gaps."