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Is Your Department Prepared for Mass-Casualty Events?

Despite only accounting for 5% of the global population, an outstanding 31% of the world’s mass shootings occur in the United States.

That sobering statistic from the University of Alabama Department of Criminal Justice was again brought to the forefront on December 2, when a couple killed at least 14 people in San Bernardino, California—the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Connecticut, four years ago.

Even worse: In 2015, there have been more mass shootings—defined as incidents in which four or more victims are shot—than days in the calendar year. Since December 3, the U.S. has had 355 mass shootings, according to ShootingTracker.com which tracks deaths by guns in America.

In just one week in December 2015, there were six mass shootings, including a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the San Bernardino massacre and a shooting on December 3 in Georgia as four people were shot one of whom died.

The FBI reports that gun sales are going up and that more gun background checks were done on Black Friday than any other single day on record: 185,345. That is up 5% from Black Friday 2014, when there were 175,754 background checks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Global Terrorism Database states that 50 times more Americans have been killed by guns than terrorist attacks since 9/11.

As mass shootings are on the rise and firefighters are being shot at while responding to an incident or being ambushed on scene, have we as fire service leaders updated our all-hazards plans/policies to include active/mass shooting terrorist events or have even equipped our personnel with body armor?

An attack by radicals armed with weapons in public areas, such as schools, shopping malls, churches, large-scale special events where people congregate, is a serious threat to maintaining a strong sense of security and the daily lives of the public and our fire rescue personnel.

In October 2013, the IAFC board of directors adopted a position statement on Active Shooter and Mass Casualty Terrorist Events. It encourages fire and police agencies to:

  • Work together to establish SOPs and SOGs
  • Update their all-hazards plans and train
  • Practice together to deal with these unusual, highly volatile and extraordinarily dangerous scenarios

Additionally, as fire service leaders, we have to work with our local police departments to develop SOGs and SOPs and all-hazards plans. Train and then practice the plan at least quarterly to ensure that when an event occurs in your town, village or city, your personnel feel comfortable working within the warm zone with PD and get used to working in body armor and ballistic helmets.

Due to the cost of the armor and helmets, many smaller combination and volunteer departments can’t afford to do so. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant lists these items as a medium priority for 2015 grant funding, but if we lobby our political leaders, maybe it can become a high-priority item for 2016.

After the events unfolded on 9/11, the federal government determined that public-safety agencies weren’t properly equipped to handle mass-casualty events. Large federal grants emerged and fire-rescue agencies used these funds to equip themselves to handle any weapon of mass destruction (WMD) and CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives) incidents.

As time went by, those funding sources have dwindled. Now with the rise of active- and mass-shooting events, there should be a large push toward increased federal funding to ensure that fire-rescue personnel are properly equipped with body armor and ballistic helmets.

Now’s the time to develop your plans, train and practice with police because active- and mass-shooting events can happen anywhere at any time. Make sure your personnel are safe!

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