It was a sight many first responders hope they never have to see: Law enforcement officers, guns drawn, crept through the halls of the school as EMS personnel followed close behind, not knowing what they might find around the next corner.
While the scene on Saturday at the Fairfield Local Schools was only a simulation of what emergency workers call an “active threat situation,” it was organized so first responders won’t be caught by surprise if such an incident should occur.
In other words, the event was an exercise in “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” according to Branden Jackman, public information officer for Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District.
The training, hosted by the Highland County North Joint Fire and Ambulance District, was part of an ongoing initiative by Paint Creek to coordinate the law enforcement and EMS response to such scenarios so the two enter the situation side by side, Jackman said Monday.
“This is new ground, trainingwise,” he said. “Law enforcement and EMS rarely work together… but we’ve got big buy-in from every law enforcement agency in the county, and the (Ohio State Highway Patrol).”
Jackman said last year that the goal of such training is to assemble dedicated teams of police and EMS personnel to respond to active threat situations as a cohesive unit.
“It’s a melding of law enforcement and fire/rescue workers to where they act as a single team,” he said. “They each have their area of responsibility. The law enforcement is there for force protection, and the… EMS staff are there to provide medical care.”
In other words, Jackman said, law enforcement stops the killing, and EMS personnel stop the dying.
But while each member of the unit has a different responsibility, Jackman said they all have to have an understanding of the others’ responsibilities to be successful — a key element in training sessions last year.
“We want law enforcement to understand our side of it, but another aspect of it is the EMTs need to understand the law enforcement aspect of it, too, so they need to understand cover and tactical movement,” he said. “It’s each team member understanding the other team member’s responsibilities, and multiplying each other’s positives.”
Jackman said that idea could play a vital role for smaller police departments in response to active threat situations.
“We never know what school it might be,” he said. “If it happens in Hillsboro schools, they have the benefit of police and fire right there; but once you get out to the outlying schools, it’s going to take us a while to get out there.”
In that case, Jackman said, the responsibility may fall on officers from police departments in more remote areas to utilize trauma care training.
“We call it buddy-aid, self-aid,” he said. “It’s first-aid for themselves, so they can care for themselves if they get wounded… As they respond to the threat, they may come across people who are gravely wounded. This training gives them a little bit of skill to get started prior to EMS arrival.”
Jackman said the weekend training included several scenarios and “evolutions,” where different law enforcement agencies took the lead.
“We were mixing and matching because no one department in the county can do this alone,” he said. “EMS needs to understand when they activate the teams, the uniforms may be a different color.”
Saturday’s training included first responders from the Leesburg Police Department, Highland County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsboro Police Department, Greenfield Police Department, Highland County North, Paint Creek and Brushcreek Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Jackman said last year that whether together or separate, first responders “always train for the worst and hope for the best,” adding, “If it does ever happen, we hope we land somewhere in the middle.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.