Police officers swept across Lord Baltimore Elementary School, guns raised, as teams of paramedics scuttled behind them.
Delaware’s first Rescue Task Force was training on June 28 for the horrible — and, hopefully, unlikely — day that an active shooter requires massive police and medical response.
Emergency response has changed from the days of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, when police secured a perimeter and waited for SWAT teams to lead the charge into a hot zone. Now, police officers run straight in, too.
But while police deal with the immediate danger, EMTs are best suited to treat the victims left in the dust.
So the Rescue Task Force allows medics to enter a “warm zone” (gunshots or explosives aren’t in the immediate area, but they’re very nearby) to quickly stabilize and remove the injured victims, under protection of armed police officers.
Task force partners include the Ocean View Police Department, Millville Volunteer Fire Company, Bethany Beach police, Bethany Beach VFC and South Bethany police.
This week, the main goal was to train about 100 Sussex County Emergency Medical Services workers, too.
“This has been an ongoing process. This is not a response to Orlando,” noted Glenn Marshall, SCEMS public information officer.
Local first-responders have trained together for more than a decade, preparing for catastrophic events. They recently adopted a formal Rescue Task Force program, created in Arlington, Va., to bring medical personnel into an active shooter zone.
Small communities aren’t immune from major casualty events.
But, “Because we’re small, it doesn’t take a lot to effect change,” said Chief Ken McLaughlin of the Ocean View PD. “We’re looking at what’s out there. What are the threats we need to prepare for?” A bus crash or a bomb threat?
Locals are learning best practices from other people’s experiences. Maybe the Boston Marathon didn’t have enough authentic tourniquets in 2013. Maybe medics weren’t initially allowed into the movie theater in 2012 in Aurora, Colo.
“There’s definitely an issue for a threat in our hometown,” said John Watson, EMS chief for the Millville VFC. “We have to be prepared for that.”
This week, the goal was to bring SCEMS up to speed on the Rescue Task Force based in Millville, Ocean View and Bethany Beach.
About 100 Sussex County paramedics were trained over the four days. The director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) attended, too.
“Having the paramedics come and do this with us is a huge step,” Watson said.
“It’s a simple thing, but it’s not because you’re bringing multiple agencies together … in a stressful situation,” Marshall said.
Screams and distant gunshots up the ante for everyone.
Coming from the fire station, EMTs are used to providing the most basic life support. But paramedics jump on the ambulance if advanced life support is needed. Typically, they’re also thinking about an IV line, breathing, intubation and heart monitoring. So they have a bigger transition to make into this situation’s mindset.
“This guy’s bleeding. We need to put a tourniquet on him, and we need to move,” said Watson.
“It’s all about time,” Marshall said. “It can seem rude” for a medic to throw her knee on someone’s shoulder to stabilize an artery, but “Any bit of blood we can keep in you is what’s gonna save you.”
Hemorrhaging doesn’t wait for a paramedic to arrive before degrading the human brain.
“We know we’ve got to get in there rapidly” to begin patient care, and eventually get them out to a proper surgeon, McLaughlin said.
“The police stop the killing. We stop the dying,” Watson said.
It was a learning experience for everyone, as paramedics learned to find the victims and police practiced protecting medics in a dangerous zone.
This is the time to make any mistakes, so they’ll carry those lessons forward if the sad day comes when that teamwork is needed.