Gadsden firefighters will begin training next week with Gadsden police, preparing to get treatment to patients quicker in the event of an active shooter situation.
Fire Chief Stephen Carroll said the response to mass shooting situations has changed over the last two decades, and each incident is reviewed to find what emergency responders can do better.
Wil Reed, chief of Emergency Medical Services, said it's believed getting medical treatment to the injured more quickly could have saved lives in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Carroll said his department, in line with the response standards recommended now, is establishing a Rescue Task Force—training all department personnel who respond to emergencies to go in with police after they make their initial response, to treat the injured as quickly as possible.
Reed said the previous response plan called for EMS personnel to hold up outside the scene until police had made their response and wait for victims to be brought out.
"We'll go to the patients, rather than the patients being brought to us," Carroll said.
Police still will be the initial responders, Reed said. When officers have an offender under control or confined in a specific locations, medics will go in to a "warm zone" with police officers, to treat the injured quicker.
"It will allow us to bypass triage," Reed said—bringing patients together to determine who needs treatment first.
Medics will have a body armor vest and helmet, with a small trauma kit attached to the chest with equipment that can be used to control bleeding.
Carroll said there's no recommendation for the protective gear, but department leaders believed some protective equipment should be provided.
Fire department vehicles will be equipped with an advanced bleeding control trauma kit with multiple tourniquets, QuikClot, shears and other equipment. It's some of the same equipment in the small kits, multiplied to allow for the treatment of multiple patients.
Getting blood loss under control quickly can make save lives, and improve outcomes for the injured, Carroll said.
The fire department placed bleeding control kits—equipped with some of the same equipment that will be found in trauma kits on its vehicles—in each of the Gadsden City schools last year. Reed said Riverview Regional Medical Center is purchasing an additional 16 kits for Gadsden schools.
Focus is often put on schools in discussions of active shooters, Carroll said, "because that's where our heart is" but the equipment and training can be put to use anywhere.
These specially trained medics will not replace the tactical medics who respond to crisis calls with the county's Joint Special Operations Group.
Carroll said he, the department's assistant chiefs and Reed have all participated in active shooter response training, and Reed has attended additional schools regarding EMS response to mass shootings.
Both law enforcement agencies and EMS continue to evolve their responses, he said, and Gadsden is going to continue to seek training.
"Any time we train with the police it is good," Reed said. "It helps build our camaraderie," and that benefits the relationship between the agencies for any types of calls they work.
"It's a fluid training," Carroll said, as techniques and technology change with the lessons of each tragedy. "We want to stay ahead of the curve."
Reed added, "And we hope that we'll never have to use it."