A dozen German Twp. paramedics are swapping out their flame-retardant coats for bullet proof vests as part of the department’s new Active Shooter Response Team, the first of its kind in Ohio and one of only a few elite teams nationwide.
When a shooting occurs in a large building, such as a school or shopping center, it can take hours for law enforcement officers to check the area and give the all-clear for paramedics to assist the wounded. In that time, many victims die waiting for help, said German Twp. Fire Chief Tim Holman.
Paramedics won’t have any weapons, instead relying on the vigilance of their two-person teams to stay out of the shooter’s path, Holman said.
“It’s unacceptable for me to think there are people bleeding to death when we could go in and fix that,” he said.
Two years ago, when Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper was killed and another officer was injured in the gunfire at Enon Beach, Holman said he began building a team of paramedics trained to enter active shooting situations with law enforcement to treat the wounded amid gunfire.
“If we have an active shooter and law enforcement goes down, our priority is to that law enforcement officer,” he said. “We don’t want to see the same thing happen that happened in Enon Beach.”
Similar paramedic teams exist in Raleigh, N.C., and Orange County, Calif., Holman said. The concept has been controversial for some law enforcement agencies that have raised safety concerns.
The Dayton and Kettering fire departments, along with most others in the area, state and country, continue to follow a longstanding protocol for dealing with active shooter and other hostile situations.
“That calls for us to wait for police to secure the scene before we proceed inside with cots to do treatment or potentially remove victims,” said interim Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne.
Some departments in an eight-county western Ohio metropolitan medical response team “are moving toward a new response policy, but that would not include arming firefighters or paramedics,” he said.
One proposed new strategy, he said, would call for some police to respond immediately “and seek to take out the shooter or shooters, but for two other armed officers to also enter immediately with paramedics, who would not be armed, but would wear ballistic gear including protective helmets and bulletproof vests.”
That capability already exists for the City of Oakwood’s Safety Department, which is one of a few in the country that cross-trains its police, fire and paramedic personnel to cover all three disciplines.
“In a standard situation, we would not expect our paramedics to bear weapons when they respond in a medical emergency, although police officers responding would be armed,” said Maj. Randy Baldridge, assistant director of Oakwood’s Public Safety Department.
The Gemran Twp. department budgeted for the team over the past two years. It’s cost $30,000 for the 200 hours of training for each of the team’s 12 members and to equip them with 3-A ballistic vests and helmets. Thigh packs contain tourniquets and chest seals that can be accessed quickly and control bleeding in seconds.
Participation is voluntary. Only about a quarter of the department’s 40 staff members are part of the team.
“We told (members) right up front there’s a good chance that you would be killed doing this, and we’re not making it mandatory for anyone,” Holman said. “There’s a risk going into a burning building, but we equip our people and train our people properly to try to lower that risk. We’ve done the same thing here.”