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In April 2013, police EOD/SWAT personnel were called on to rescue Station 10 Firefighters Chip Echols, Sidney Garner, Tim Hollingsworth, Josh Moss and Jason Schuon after they were taken hostage by a gunman holed up in his residence in the Suwanee section of the county. The firefighters had been called to a medical emergency at the home at about 3:30 P.M. on April 11. Engine 10 and Medic 10 responded, with the firefighters having no reason to believe the call would be different from any other they had responded to before. Upon arrival, they took their equipment into the residence and began assessing the patient, 55-year-old Lauren Brown. Several minutes into the incident, the patient removed the blood pressure cuff from his arm, displayed a handgun and announced it was time “for the real reason” they were there. He later displayed two other handguns. After the initial shock, the firefighters’ training kicked in. They set about to lighten the mood and make Brown feel at ease. The firefighters were asked to remove their shirts to show they had no weapons.
Brown said he chose firefighters because he knew they would be unarmed and that police usually do not respond with them. Brown was having financial problems and made demands that his power, cable TV and cell phone service be turned back on and that windows on the residence be boarded up with insulation and plywood so that police could not see inside or enter. All the demands were met. He also told the firefighters he wanted the fire engine moved from the front of his residence.
Moss was released and allowed to move the engine. Before going outside, he made mental notes of the layout of the interior of the residence so he could give the information to the police. The incident went on for hours as the firefighters worked to gain Brown’s trust by telling him they were on the same team. He gradually let the firefighters move around freely in the residence, which gave them time to plan and communicate with police who were outside. Hollingsworth said he believed Brown planned to kill the firefighters, set the residence on fire and then kill himself. Firefighters did not try to disarm him because they believed he might have had a trigger to set off explosives. This theory was formed based on the way he was positioned in bed and comments he made.
Relationships pay off
When the firefighters were alerted that the SWAT team was about to make a move to rescue them, Echols and Hollingsworth went to the kitchen on the pretense to get coffee. Garner and Schuon remained in the bedroom. Hollingsworth went to the front door on the pretense to get food that was being brought in by police and Echols remained in the kitchen. SWAT personnel entered the residence and set off an entry grenade to disorient the gunman. The firefighters were rescued with only minor injuries. One SWAT team member, Sergeant Jason Teague, was shot in the arm. Brown was shot to death by SWAT team members.
According to Walsh, “Firefighters being held hostage was of great concern to all personnel on scene, particularly to hazardous devices technicians at the scene who have developed a very close working relationship as well as a close friendship with many away from the office. The hazardous devices technicians deployed with the SWAT entry team.”
It is my opinion that the excellent working relationship between the fire and police departments in Gwinnett County facilitated the successful outcome of this incident. Agencies that train together and work together on a daily basis will also work well together on the scene of an emergency.
Thanks to Major W.J. Walsh of the Gwinnett County Police and Deputy Chief of Operations Charles Wells and Public Information Officer Tommy Rutledge of the Gwinnett County Fire Department for their assistance. For additional information, contact Walsh at email@example.com or Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org. n