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Responding to a Mass Shooting


By John Morse

Mass shooting and terror attacks are becoming far too common.  In the past few years we have seen a lot of incidents of violence using bombs and guns.  We watch the news coverage and we see the first responders hustling around taking care of all the wounded.  We spend a lot of time training.  We even train on these kinds of calls, but no amount of training can prepare you for what you are going to experience on a call like this.

No matter your role, on every call your first priority is your own safety.  Even with incident commanders and safety officers, you need to be mindful of your personal safety.  We hope that the safety and incident commanders will keep us safe, but don’t ever forget your own responsibility when it comes to your safety.

When we respond to these incidents it is important to remember that even though there are injured people, it is a police situation.  We don’t like it when we respond to a house fire and find the police charging into the building.  So with this type of call, let them do their job.  When the scene is secure, it is time for the EMS people to go to work.  There will likely be injured people that have moved away from the scene that will need to be treated.  You can keep busy with these patients while the police check things out.

We all respect heroes and like to hear stories about people that charge in and save a couple people without considering their own safety.  That doesn’t mean you need to be one of those guys.  It is very difficult to stand by when you know your service is needed, but you can’t help anyone if you get hurt, or worse.

One of the most difficult things to determine is the number of injured people.  Whenever there is one of these incidents it takes hours before the number of victims is correct.  Most times before the scene is even secured, a large amount of ambulances are on the way.  Ambulances that are not needed can always be returned.

Media will have a big presence at these incidents and they will be trying to get information from anyone wearing a uniform.  There should be one spokesperson who provides regular reports to the media.  That spokesperson can be from the fire, police, or village administration.  There may be questions answered by other department heads, but that one representative is the official public information officer.  If you are one of the first responders, don’t give out any information to anyone.

Once the incident is completed, you will have time to reflect on what has just happened.  Depending on the severity of the incident, it may take a long time to realize what happened and what your role was in the call.  Debriefing sessions after these incidents are common and outside agencies come to help us deal with our involvement. We often find ourselves talking about serious calls for a long time afterwards. Discussing these calls with others that responded is a good way to work through what has happened.  Sometimes the informal table talk discussions are more helpful than the professional debriefing sessions.

The world is becoming a very unstable place and we must always be ready to do our job in every circumstance.

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