Calif. Firefighter-Paramedics Train in the Hot Zone
Aug. 11—For the first time, a new emergency protocol that would send San Jose firefighters into an active-shooting zone to save lives was tested out Saturday in a multi-agency training exercise.
A thunderous explosion kicked off the exercise around 11:45 a.m. at the under-construction new BART station in Milpitas. Inside the station and parking garage, some 40 police academy trainees and others decorated with stage-makeup bullet wounds, broken bones, contusions and other injuries screamed and moaned, while the "dead" lay still.
The training project—which included about 100 police, firefighters and paramedics, two role-playing active shooters with assault-style rifles, a suspicious package on a BART train and a great deal of simulated gunfire—saw San Jose firefighters practicing to enter shooting zones before police have taken out the threat. The new protocol, which involves turning firefighters essentially into combat medics by supplying them with military-style bullet-resistant vests, helmets and collapsible stretchers, came into effect about two years ago.
"It is a new set of risks for us," said San Jose Fire Department Capt. Mitch Matlow. "I heard it said very succinctly yesterday: The job of law enforcement is to stop the killing. Our job is to stop the dying."
When firefighters have to wait till a shooter is taken down by police, as under the department's previous protocol, wounded people may bleed to death in minutes, Matlow said.
"If I can stop or slow the bleeding and get them out of there, that will prolong or save their life until I can get them to a trauma center," Matlow said.
Under the new protocol, firefighters would still stay out of "hot" areas where a shooter is still active, but would enter nearby "warm" areas to treat wounded people even if gunfire was continuing.
The simulated gunshots, plus explosions from flash-bang devices and floors littered with bullet casings and "bleeding" people was intended to replicate reality and boost the responders' stress levels through the "sensory overload" that confronts police, firefighters and medics during actual shootings, said Sheriff's office Sgt. Richard Glennon.
BART, a newcomer to Milpitas and the South Bay, can't respond to emergencies "in a vacuum," said BART Police deputy chief Lance Haight. Agencies participating in the exercise included BART police, San Jose's police and fire departments, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and county emergency services, Milpitas police and fire departments, the CHP, BART and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
The exercise focused on the ability of the various agencies to operate and communicate effectively under a unified command, officials said. It should help show the public that BART is a safe way to travel, Haight said.
The training took place at a troubled time for BART, which has embarked on a campaign to promote safety on the service in the wake of highly publicized incidents including three homicides in less than a week in July, one of them a bloody stabbing attack at Oakland's MacArthur Station that killed Nia Wilson, 18 and wounded her sister. In the wake of the violence, the Bay Area Council—instrumental in creating BART—called earlier this month for BART to immediately establish a task force to look into creating a regional mutual-aid agreement with local and regional law enforcement and public safety agencies.
This week, BART's board voted to delay action on a number of elements of a new, $28 million safety plan, in the face of strong opposition over proposed surveillance systems and a ban on panhandling in paid areas of stations.
The BART station in Milpitas is one of two intended to serve passengers on the 10-mile "Berryessa Extension," the first phase of BART's planned 16-mile extension into Silicon Valley. The Berryessa Extension is to run between Fremont's Warm Springs station and a new Berryessa/North San Jose stop. Valley Transit Authority officials expect the line to open between March and September next year. The six-mile segment carrying passengers into downtown San Jose is slated to open in 2026.
Holding the exercise at the Milpitas BART station was an opportunity for emergency responders to get familiar with the facility, and for Sheriff's deputies to practice shooting-response skills and build response teams with other agencies, said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.