May 6—Last summer, two Falmouth police officers were shot while responding to an incident on Ashley Drive. The suspect was also shot several times by police.
All three were treated at the same time on the front lawn of the home by emergency medical staff from the fire department.
Officers Ryan Moore and Donald DiMiranda and suspect Malik Koval all survived, but the tense scenario underlined the need for firefighters to have some protection when providing treatment under potentially dangerous conditions.
It wasn't the first time rescue workers were in danger. In 2015, Falmouth's rescue crew was accompanied by a state trooper to treat an injured woman at a fatal shooting scene in Bourne, while the shooter, Adrian Loya, was still at large. Bourne medical crews meanwhile treated a wounded police officer.
None of the rescue workers were wearing protective equipment.
Falmouth Fire Department has now purchased 25 armored vests and helmets, known as ballistics gear, which will be placed on fire trucks and in ambulances and provided to command staff.
"We had been talking about it for awhile," said fire Capt. Craig O'Malley. "The big prompt was last year's shooting."
The vests have plates on the front and back and soft armor on the sides. "It's for going into an area which police have gone through and cleared," O'Malley said. "We would be accompanied by a police officer."
When there is an active shooter or some other threat, the scene is divided into three zones. The "cold zone" is where emergency personnel organize. The "warm zone" is the area which police have cleared but the potential of harm still exists. And the "hot zone" is where the police work to contain the threat.
Fire departments are increasingly equipping themselves with ballistics gear so they can go into those warm zones, along with law enforcement, and provide swift and critical care.
They carry life-saving supplies like tourniquets and chest seals to stop victims from bleeding out before they can be treated.
"In-house training will involve offering medical treatment in the environment of a hostile threat," O'Malley said. "The other part will be training with the police."
Training will be organized by shift, with firefighter/paramedics learning alongside police officers who would be on duty at the same time.
A full-scale drill will be held this summer probably at one of the town's schools, when the children are on vacation.
"We have a very good relationship with the police department and I think it will get even better as the two departments train as one," the fire captain said.
According to an officer in the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, fire departments across the state are moving toward purchase of the ballistics gear and working on the accompanying training. "This is a new situation for firefighters, working in an area with people shooting at you," said John Parow, the association's secretary/treasurer. "You have to have both the proper equipment and the proper training."
While Falmouth is the only fire department on the Upper Cape to have the gear, it's either being purchased or already in several Barnstable County towns.
Orleans Fire Chief Anthony Pike said there's a funding article for the equipment on the spring town meeting warrant.
Eastham and Brewster fire departments have the equipment and trained together, and Wellfleet may purchase the ballistics gear before the fiscal year is out.
The fire department in Dennis is currently researching and pricing the equipment and plans to buy it in the next month or so, according to Fire Chief Mark Dellner.
Hyannis Fire Lt. Nathan Coughlan said rescue workers have the equipment and were trained in its use. "They've done some training with local police," Coughlan said. "This is something new, and it's ongoing."
The Professional Firefighters Union of Massachusetts supports the use of ballistics gear, Coughlan said. "We need to be able to respond and save people when these situations happen," he said.
Falmouth Police Chief Edward Dunne said the equipment and training will bolster both public safety departments. "In an active shooter situation, our job is to find the shooter," Dunne said of law enforcement's role. "As we go through the building, we're walking past the wounded. There's no time to treat them or get them out."
Working in tandem with the fire department's rescue crews "is definitely beneficial," the chief said. "It's going to save lives."