N.H. Fire, EMS Receive Equipment for Warm Zone Training
Mar. 2—While recent alleged threats to Exeter High School and the Seacoast School of Technology did not materialize, Exeter police and fire were ready.
In fact, they've been ready for nearly two years.
Since 2016, the two departments have engaged in a collaborative effort to train for active shooter or mass casualty scenarios. "This has been an evolution over the last 20 years," said Exeter police Capt. Mike Munck. "Every incident that happens unfortunately has a unique facet to it and tactics are constantly evolving. There is a nationwide ongoing conversation over this topic."
On Feb. 14, the nation saw the second deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook at a Parkland, Florida high school when 17 were shot and killed. In the days since, there has been a renewed debate on how best to end the bloodshed.
Police officers and firefighters have now known for quite some time that their job descriptions include the possibility of responding to an active shooter situation. Exeter's first responders are assuring the public they are prepared and have the proper equipment.
Munck holds civilian active shooter response trainings around the community for businesses and local organizations. He also trains other police departments.
Assistant Fire Chief Justin Pizon obtained a $6,000 New Hampshire Homeland Security grant for "EMS in the Warm Zone" equipment. The grant gave the Exeter Fire Department four complete sets of ballistic protective vests, helmets, goggles and rescue bags. One rescue bag can treat up to eight patients.
"It's really just business as usual for us," Pizon said of an active shooter scenario. "We're going to go in and treat patients the same way we do today, we're just entering a warm zone."
A warm zone is a concept where police have established a secured area within the area of an incident that allows EMTs to enter and evacuate the injured. A rescue task force is a four-member team, made up of two police officers and two EMTs, whose sole purpose is to stay with patients. The police officers protect the EMTs from any potential surrounding threat.
One rescue bag is equipped with dozens of tourniquets, which Pizon noted "are what save lives."
"A lot of people die from bleeding out, they're not dead instantly from being shot," he said. He said during the Aurora, Colorado and Pulse Nightclub shootings, it took first responders a long time to get inside. He called it "a race against time."
"There are two phases to an active shooter response," Munck said. "Stop the killing and stop the dying. The first part is a law enforcement function, the second is a joint effort. So it is imperative police and fire train together. The first time you want to work together during a rescue task force is not during an actual incident."
Exeter police and fire have done active shooter response training at both Exeter High School and Phillips Exeter Academy, where they've used high school-age volunteers to make the situations more real.
In an active shooter response, Munck said the initial goal is to locate the shooter and neutralize the threat. The current best practice, he said, is for the first officer on scene to immediately enter the building.
The state of New Hampshire requires 75 percent of fire department personnel to complete "EMS in the Warm Zone" awareness training. "This is our new reality, we need to be prepared," Pizon said. "I feel as though we have really set the standard."
In addition to Exeter personnel, the Seacoast Chief Fire Officers Mutual Aid District has a mass casualty protocol, so first responders can interchangeably assist scenarios in different towns.
Munck reminded that there shouldn't be a predisposition that an incident will always occur at a school. It's likely it may be at a business, he said. At an active shooter training for the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce last year, Munck said 55 percent of active shooter situations end prior to police arrival, whether that be by suicide, the shooter is taken down or they flee the scene. "The bulk of the event is after the shooter is taken out," he said.
But before a potential threat of violence comes to fruition, Munck said civilians have a responsibility, too.
"If you see something, report it," he said. "We will look into it."