In recent months, firefighters have been called to a rash of shooting incidents involving other firefighters. The West Webster, N.Y. incident, where firefighters were ambushed by a gunman, is not the first time, and, sadly, will not be the last. Every member of an engine, truck or rescue company has a defined job. No National Fire Protection Agency manual has ever described part of any firefighter's job to be on the lookout for a deranged gunman. Thankfully, these events are very rare, but when they happen, the loss of life is high. There are some steps you can take to avoid being a casualty.
I named these incidents the "Omega Plan" after the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end) as defined in the Bible. My definition of the Omega plan is any man or woman who has decided to wipe their existence off the planet. I will use the term active shooter in place of the Omega Plan, but there is one critical difference between the two terms. An active shooter is just randomly shooting. An Omega Plan is a more intricate and intimate plan on the part of the suspect. Typically, it starts with the killing of their family and pets. The plan then is to burn down their home and all their possessions to leaving no trace. The final act of the suspect is to go out in a blaze of glory, killing anyone they can and then themselves. If you get lucky, the suspect kills himself before your arrival.
Since the Columbine massacre, law enforcement has changed tactics to engage the active shooter suspects immediately instead of waiting on SWAT. It started as patrol officers forming four-man contact teams, but the debate now centers on the possibility of not waiting for four officers and going after the shooter with one or two officers. Some departments even equip their patrol officers with rifles, ballistic shields, heavy armor and helmets to make a rapid assault on the shooter(s).
Dispatch Law Enforcement To Fire Calls
You may feel helpless to prevent being a victim of an Omega Plan, but there are a number of steps that can be taken to mitigate the loss of life of responding firefighters. The first step is to have law enforcement dispatch Code 3 on every reported structure fire at the same time the fire department is dispatched. Since officers are in the field, they will typically beat the fire department to the scene. In an active shooter situation, it is best that law enforcement arrive first. Past experience with active shooters inside buildings have shown that most will commit suicide as the police approach. If not, they will engage the officers as the police officers pose the biggest threat to stopping them. Let the police know their role is to protect the firefighters from an active shooter, but most likely they will then morph into traditional roles like directing traffic and blocking LDH supply lines. Obviously, the vast majority of structure fires will just be structure fires. Police officers are notorious for parking directly in front of the burning structure, which will cause problems. Train with your police officers so they know where to park so they don't block the parking areas of the first-in truck and engine company.
Another critical part of the equation is to have law enforcement being able to talk directly to the responding fire apparatus. If the information has to go from a police officer to a police dispatcher to a fire dispatcher, and then to the responding fire apparatus, time is lost and the message can be inadvertently changed by the time it reaches the fire apparatus. If you make direct communication standard operating procedures during all structure fires, not only do you work out the kinks in the flow of information, but should you be rolling up on an ambush, everyone should be skilled in correct communications. While everyone across the country has supposed to have gone to plain language, police communication tends to be less formal that fire department communication. Both entities need to practice talking to each other so the difference in communications is known. A police officer will have no idea what a Mayday is. Every cop in the country knows what assist officers means.