The 'Omega Plan' for Firefighter Safety at Shooting Scenes

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.

For agencies with computer aided dispatch (CAD), the fire department should have access to the same hazard flags on addresses that the police department has on their mobile data computer. Police officers routinely add CAD information on addresses where suspects that are a threat to law enforcement reside. A fire officer on a responding fire apparatus could see this information and do a similar evaluation of conditions like they would roll up on a hazmat incident. Take a few seconds to look for any clues of an active shooter at a scene like multiple bodies in the yard or even cars on fire that weren't parked close enough to have ignited from exposure to the structure fire.

Treatment Of Multiple Victims

Evaluate your trauma treatment capabilities. Can you rapidly stop the bleeding on three to five patients? Law enforcement agencies across the country are moving towards small trauma kits containing a few items to treat gunshot wounds. Stopping bleeding trumps airway control and breathing in gunshot wounds. Dr. Alex Eastman, the Dallas Police Medical Director, Dallas Police SWAT doctor, and an emergency room doctor for Parkland Hospital, the county hospital in Dallas, put together a kit with Tactical Medical Resources that has an S.O.F. tourniquet, OLAES bandage, and a Quick Clot bandage that will treat any gunshot wound. Police officers can be trained in about an hour on how to use all the items in the kit and most have never had any formal medical training. The items can be self-administered if needed. The kits are under $100 dollars. With the number of active shooter incidents in the country, the kits would become a force multiplier if each apparatus had a kit for each crew member so they could each treat their own patient until sufficient medical resources arrive. A typical ambulance does not carry these items, but they are far superior to anything carried in the ambulance in stopping hemorrhaging gunshot wounds and sucking chest wounds. Some progressive departments have started carrying the S.O.F., C.A.T. or Israeli tourniquets. These items have been repeatedly battle tested and it has been found that compartmentalization syndrome doesn't start for hours, so the application of a tourniquet does no harm to the patient. 

Responder Safety Ideas

Now that the preventative measures have been addressed, what do you do if you are caught in the middle of an active shooter implementing his Omega Plan? Flee, seek cover, or concealment immediately in that order. Don't vapor lock, keep thinking of a safe way out of the shooter's path. Cover simply defined is something that will stop bullets. Concealment doesn't stop bullets, but obscures your movements. If your crew is still in the apparatus, go in whatever direction necessary to get away from the shooter as fast as possible. Don't worry about damage to the fire apparatus. Run over anything other than innocent civilians that you have to so you can get away. If possible, pick up civilians to evacuate them from the area. If you are stuck and can't move the apparatus, get between the most solid object on the apparatus and the shooter. A diesel engine block will stop most rounds. An even better place of cover is the water tank. Bullets rapidly loose velocity and only travel a few feet through water. Consider cutting the stems of all the tires to lower the apparatus. Bullets that hit the ground don't bounce up into the air. In most cases, the bullet will continue along a path very low to the ground.

Don't put yourself in a position that you can't flee if the shooter comes at you. As soon as you are behind cover start looking for escape routes that have plenty of cover opportunities like large trees or brick walls. If the need arises where you must flee from your position, do so with the aid of concealment. The military uses smoke grenades, which aren't carried on fire apparatus and most police cars. However, a dry chemical fire extinguisher discharged in a tight up and down pattern four to six feet off the ground creates exceptional cover. The powder hangs in the air better than military smoke. Wind will disperse smoke and dry chemical extinguishers in the same manner.

In the end, there is no perfect solution for surviving an Omega plan active shooter incident. There are some actions you can take to improve your chance of surviving the incident. Practice them. We do Mayday drills on a regular basis, why not get with your police department and practice an active shooter incident? The police can provide a bad guy armed with simunition rounds. Set a fire in your burn house and have a gunman. See how everyone reacts, then critique their actions. You may develop additional defensive tactics that can be shared with other fire departments across the country.