In the wake of several mass shootings across the nation, the Red Oak and Glenn Heights Police and Fire Departments have partnered with the Red Oak ISD Police Department to establish a new approach to handle an active shooter.
Their method is to create a rescue task force composed both of police officers and firefighters to aid the wounded as the incident unfolds. Police officers would escort firefighters, who wear body armor, in areas where danger is still present or could resurface. Firefighters then can treat or evacuate victims from the scene.
Red Oak Fire Chief Eric Thompson stated law enforcement officers historically would respond to the location first. Fire and medical personnel would then arrive on the scene once the danger was eliminated.
“Before we would not even think about this. We would stage far away, and when the police department would give the 'all clear' we would then start treating patients,” Thompson said. “What is happening is that we are not providing any care to the wounded (right away). We are trying to increase the time that we are providing life-saving care.”
According to the FBI website, 220 active shooter incidents took place between 2000 and 2016. A total of 661 people were killed and 825 wounded during the events, which does not include the shooter.
Red Oak Police Chief Garland Wolf stated the idea came about after the Pulse nightclub shooting that took place in Orlando on June 12, 2016.
The Associated Press reported that 49 people lost their lives and 58 were wounded during the terrorist attack.
“Officers were inside, and they had limited ability to provide medical aid. Firefighters were less than 500 yards away, and they would not enter into that zone to provide medical aid because they were unsure of the venue and if it was safe to enter,” Wolf explained. “The shooter was down and contained, but the fire department would not come in. That has been the status quo and has been the methodology for decades.”
Wolf continued, stating this model has been used in different parts of the nation but is not done on the local level except for larger cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, or Garland.
Cross training will allow firefighters and police officers in Red Oak and Glenn Heights to know the same concepts, which will allow the two to respond to a crisis no matter the location. The rescue taskforce concept uses three police officers to provide protection and two medics with supplies to treat up to 14 patients. Firefighters are not armed.
“There have been recorded instances in these types of events that medical aid can take as long as an hour to get firefighters in and get those people out,” Wolf explained. “Now our target times are to have rescue teams inside the building within six to eight minutes of the event popping off. Then within 12-15 minutes have them to advance life support care. That is well within that golden hour time.”
Red Oak ISD Police Chief Kevin Denney stated this new task force is a paradigm shift in law enforcement. He noted that this change is needed to get people immediate aid.
“For me, it means that we are all on the same sheet of music — law enforcement, and firefighters. That means, as a community and as a school district, we can get aid into an area that much faster and more effectively,” Denney said. “We can stop the bad guy faster probably, help the people that are injured, and get them out more effectively.”
Denny added the command structure would become more centralized, which provides strength to the group.
Through the training, firefighters are taught how to move in coordination with police through a dangerous area. Officers learn their responsibilities are to protect the firefighters. Both groups will learn not only to coordinate their efforts but to have better communication and to share ideas. The departments are also working with dispatchers so if an incident does happen they are not overwhelmed.
When firefighters enter a scene, they carry an advanced trauma backpack. Contained inside the bag are first aid items that include combat compression bandages, hemostatic agents, tourniquets, cloth medical tape, an emergency survival blanket, gloves, and a cohesive wrap bandage. The backpack also houses six to 10 smaller medical kits, which can be thrown to people or used by firefighters.
The backpacks are inside the battalion chief’s vehicle and the police department’s field supervisor’s vehicle so they can be deployed rapidly. Each backpack comes at the cost of about $600 - $1,000, depending on the size, and weighs around five pounds.
The body armor used by firefighters is stored inside the fire engines and battalion chief’s vehicle. The Red Oak Fire Department purchased the eight-pieces of body armor at the cost of $445. This equips an entire shift of firefighters. Usually, the equipment ranges from $600-$1,000. The equipment cost was paid for through the department's operational budgets.
Thompson stated this concept could be used at any location where an active shooter call is taking place.
“The school is one scenario of hundreds that could happen in the scheme of things," Thompson said. “This whole thing helps us to be well rounded and prepared for events that could happen at the post office, at Triumph, or at a city council meeting. Anywhere.”
According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website, the most substantial proportion of active shooter incidents — 44 percent — occurred in areas of commerce, including business both open and closed to the public. Twenty-three percent of active shooter incidents occur at schools, including colleges and universities, and 11 percent occur in open spaces like public streets, parks and parking lots.
Denney added the rescue task force concept is effective and it gets everyone on the same page to be able to help people at a critical moment.
Currently, the rescue task force concept is limited to the Red Oak area, but it is hoped that it can be expanded to other agencies in the future.