Fire/EMS Response Considerations for Mass Shooting Incidents

The first step in your preparation is a review of your agency's guidelines and procedures.

This article was recently written by Contributing Editor August Vernon and was due to be published in the coming weeks. Because of the tragedy at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, is publishing this article to assist fire departments to plan for this type of unthinkable incident.

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

Several recent major events have occurred in the past 26 months that have emphasized the need for Fire/EMS to again address the possibility of mass shooting events in their community.

One of the latest shootings in 2006 that has occurred has left five girls dead and five remain hospitalized as the result of an Oct. 2 attack by an adult gunman against a one-room schoolhouse in the farming community of Nickel Mines, PA. One week before the attack in the Amish Community, an armed gunman entered the Platte Canyon High School outside of Bailey, Colorado and held six female students hostage in a classroom. Morrison was killed when a SWAT team entered the facility, but not before killing one of his hostages. On Sept. 13, a 25-year-old man went on a shooting spree at Montreal's Dawson College, targeting students and college personnel at random and leaving panic and death in his wake. He killed one and injured 19 before being killed.

In 2005 several major shooting events also occurred. One of the first was the March 11 event in Atlanta, Ga. A Fulton County judge, a sheriff's deputy and a court reporter were shot and killed and another deputy critically wounded at the courthouse before the gunman fled from the scene and carjacked a motorist. The courthouse's 400-plus workers were evacuated later, and schools, restaurants and office buildings in the area were locked down during the day. The suspect was later captured after killing a US Customs Officer.

The second mass-shooting event occurred on March 12 at a hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin. The shooter opened fire at a church service being held at the hotel, killing at least four people and sending several others to hospitals, authorities said. The gunman then apparently shot and killed himself.

The third and most recent attack occurred on Jan. 30 in Goleta, CA, when a female shooter 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 48-year-old Doug Williams 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 installation since 1986, when a mailman killed 14 people in Edmond, OK, and then took his own life.

Threat Groups

It is also important to remember that some Al-Qaeda training materials such as the Encyclopedia Jihad series and numerous training videos provide guidance on the use of firearms for many different missions, including kidnapping, drive-by shootings and assassinations. There are also several websites and even an on-line game that is dedicated to the Columbine High school shootings.


Law enforcement, fire and EMS all share some of the same priorities during a mass-shooting event. Planning and interagency cooperation for any critical incident type of event should be paramount. Several issues will need to be addressed during the planning phase. Law enforcement will need fire and EMS coverage and equipment (vehicles, ladders, breaching tools, fire extinguishers, trauma packs, SKEDs, etc.) during the event. EMS may need to provide tactical medics and set up several triage areas away from the scene. Law enforcement will need to provide security and "over watch" for the fire and EMS units entering the "hot zone." There is tremendous need for a coordinated effort among all agencies to ensure a safe and effective response. Responder safety is paramount during this type of event!

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