Fire-EMS Response to Mass Shootings

August Vernon discusses the response to a mass shooting in your community.

If there were a report of a mass shooting in your community, how would your agency respond? Would you immediately enter the "hot zone" or wait blocks away until it is all over?

Five major events in the past few years emphasize the need for fire-EMS departments to address the possibility of mass-shooting events taking place in their communities. Most recently, a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, on April 16, 2007. Another incident occurred on March 11, 2005, in Atlanta, GA, where a judge, a sheriff's deputy and a court reporter were shot and killed and another deputy was critically wounded at a courthouse before the gunman fled from the scene and carjacked a motorist.

On March 12, 2005, at a hotel in Brookfield, WI, a shooter opened fire during a church service being held at a hotel, killing at least four people and sending several others to hospitals. The gunman then apparently shot and killed himself. On March 21, 2005, in Red Lake, MN, a high school student killed nine people and injured a dozen more before killing himself. He was wearing stolen body armor during the attack. Yet another attack took place on Jan. 30, 2006, in Goleta, CA, when a woman shot six postal employees to death and committed suicide in what was believed to be the nation's deadliest workplace shooting by a woman. It was the deadliest shooting at any U.S. workplace since 2003, when a man gunned down 14 co-workers, killing six, and then committed suicide at a Lockheed Martin aircraft parts plant in Meridian, MS. It also was the bloodiest rampage at a U.S. Postal Service installation since 1986, when a letter carrier killed 14 people in Edmond, OK, and then took his own life.

Another shooting spree occurred on April 18, 2006, in St. Louis, MO. A man entered a business and shot and killed four women, injured another woman, and then killed himself in a parking lot.

Threat Groups

How would your agency respond to reports of an active shooter or mass shootings? Do you stage six blocks down the road and wait for the scene to be secured, even with downed police officers and civilians? What happens when this event occurs at a church or school? Do you loan fire apparatus or staff to law enforcement agencies for their use during the response and investigations? Fire-EMS departments are an essential part of the response to these incidents and must plan accordingly.

Law enforcement, fire and EMS share some of the same priorities during a mass-shooting incident, so planning and interagency cooperation should be paramount. Several issues must be addressed during the planning phase. Law enforcement will need fire and EMS coverage and equipment (vehicles, ladders, breaching tools, fire extinguishers, trauma packs, etc.) during the incident. EMS may need to provide tactical medics and set up triage areas away from the scene. Law enforcement will need to provide security for fire and EMS units entering the "hot zone." A coordinated effort among all agencies can ensure a safe and effective response.

Does your department have guidelines and procedures for dealing with mass shooting or other violent events? National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, 8.7 Civil Unrest/Terrorism, states, "The fire department shall develop and maintain written standard operating procedures that establish a standardized approach to the safety of members at incidents that involve violence, unrest, or civil disturbance (8.7.2). Such situations shall include but not be limited to civil disturbances, fights, violent crimes, drug-related situations, family disturbances, deranged individuals, and people interfering with fire department operations ( The fire department shall be responsible for developing an interagency agreement with its law enforcement agency counterpart to provide protection for fire department members at situations that involve violence (8.7.3)."

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