Company Officer Leadership: One Fire Department’s Response to an Active-Shooter Incident

After reading this story, ask yourself this question: “If your department received this call, are your members and department trained, equipped and prepared to respond?”

 

On April 12, the communications center of the Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire/Rescue Department (COMM FD) received a call from the Barnstable Police Department: “Officer down, officer shot.”

On that day, Marstons Mills Station 3, the first unit to arrive on scene, was staffed with a lieutenant/paramedic, a firefighter/EMT and a firefighter/paramedic. Also at the station at the time was the department’s lieutenant/EMS officer. Both lieutenants are tactical medics and members of the Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Council Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT.) They all responded to the scene in Ambulance 326 and the EMS officer’s department vehicle, Car 323.

A second ambulance and the shift commander were dispatched as well. Car 323 arrived on scene: a 1½-story single-family house in a residential neighborhood. The lieutenant/EMS officer immediately performed a size-up, which included a face-to-face with a lieutenant from the Barnstable Police Department who had command of the scene. The report he received was that a canine officer has been shot and was inside the house near the front door.

He also learned that the shooter was still inside, an important piece of information. Two police officers were outside the residence holding cover and two were inside the residence, protecting the officer who was down.

Car 323 made the decision to have Ambulance 326 come directly to the scene and park in front of the residence. The personnel on the ambulance grabbed a backboard, backboard straps and the stretcher and brought it to the front of the house.

As the police officers provided cover, all four firefighters went inside the front door to remove the injured officer. The officer was transferred to the backboard, secured and moved to the stretcher. The officer was transported to the local hospital and unfortunately succumbed to his injuries. The officer’s canine was shot numerous times, transported to a veterinary hospital and survived his injuries.

As the officer was being moved to the ambulance, the shift commander arrived on scene; he assumed command of the incident and worked with the police department in a unified command. An additional COMM ambulance, chief officer, and mutual-aid ambulances/fire apparatus were requested and staged at the end of the street. Four sets of ballistic gear (vest and helmet) were brought to the scene for the firefighters and used for the duration of the incident.

Before and during the incident, certain aspects of NFPA 3000, Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program were completed or implemented:

  • NFPA 3000 8.3: Car 323 arrived on scene and performed a size-up.
  • NFPA 3000 8.2.1: When the shift commander arrived on scene, he established command and worked with the police department in a unified command.

During the past year, he COMM FD and the Barnstable Police Department held an all-day joint practical training. During the drill, command staff from both the police and fire departments worked in a unified command. Police officers and firefighters also trained on forming rescue task-force teams to remove victims from the training evolution (NFPA 3000 15.2.1.)

Eight sets of ballistic gear (helmet and vest) were purchased just before this incident and training had not taken place with it yet, so the equipment was not in the vehicles. Members of COMM FD were given training by a member of the Cape Cod Regional Law Enforcement Council SWAT. Two sets of ballistic gear were placed on each of the four ambulances. Shortly thereafter, the chief of department authorized the purchase of five additional sets, one for each ambulance and one for the shift commander’s vehicle (NFPA 3000 14.2.1.)

A good resource is the Active Shooter Toolkit, an IAFC members-only compendium of resources and information from a wide variety of organizations to help local departments prepare, respond and recover from active shooter and associated incidents. The Active Shooter Toolkit was developed and the resources vetted by the IAFC Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee.

As I write this article, the members who responded to this incident have been nominated and will receive a commendation from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services at the 29th annual Firefighter of the Year Heroic Award ceremony. I have worked for many years with the members who first arrived on scene; I consider them not only coworkers but friends and am very proud of the professionalism they showed during this tragedy. Be prepared and stay safe!

 

Resources

  • National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 3000: Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program. 2018 edition.
  • International Association of Fire Chiefs. IAFC Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee: Active Shooter Toolkit. December 4, 2015.

 

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