A dozen German Twp. paramedics are swapping out their flame-retardant coats for bullet proof vests as part of the department’s new Active Shooter Response Team, the first of its kind in Ohio and one of only a few elite teams nationwide.
When a shooting occurs in a large building, such as a school or shopping center, it can take hours for law enforcement officers to check the area and give the all-clear for paramedics to assist the wounded. In that time, many victims die waiting for help, said German Twp. Fire Chief Tim Holman.
Paramedics won’t have any weapons, instead relying on the vigilance of their two-person teams to stay out of the shooter’s path, Holman said.
“It’s unacceptable for me to think there are people bleeding to death when we could go in and fix that,” he said.
Two years ago, when Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper was killed and another officer was injured in the gunfire at Enon Beach, Holman said he began building a team of paramedics trained to enter active shooting situations with law enforcement to treat the wounded amid gunfire.
“If we have an active shooter and law enforcement goes down, our priority is to that law enforcement officer,” he said. “We don’t want to see the same thing happen that happened in Enon Beach.”
Similar paramedic teams exist in Raleigh, N.C., and Orange County, Calif., Holman said. The concept has been controversial for some law enforcement agencies that have raised safety concerns.
German Twp. Police Chief Michael Stitzel said he was worried the team would be a liability to officers. However, he said he has a better understanding of the team’s effectiveness after police and medics completed a combined eight-hour training.
“With anything new, it’s going to take training,” Stitzel said. “It’s a good concept to have medics come in and treat people as soon as possible, so long as it doesn’t endanger the officer’s life.”
Officers won’t stay with rescuers, instead focusing on finding the perpetrator and eliminating the threat while paramedics go to work on the victims, Holman said.
The department budgeted for the team over the past two years. It’s cost $30,000 for the 200 hours of training for each of the team’s 12 members and to equip them with 3-A ballistic vests and helmets. Thigh packs contain tourniquets and chest seals that can be accessed quickly and control bleeding in seconds.
Participation is voluntary. Only about a quarter of the department’s 40 staff members are part of the team.
“We told (members) right up front there’s a good chance that you would be killed doing this, and we’re not making it mandatory for anyone,” Holman said. “There’s a risk going into a burning building, but we equip our people and train our people properly to try to lower that risk. We’ve done the same thing here.”
The U.S. has had at least 14 mass shootings since December 2012, killing 45 people, not including the perpetrators. Should a similar situation occur in Clark County, Holman said he hopes his team could help.
“It’s not ‘if’ it’s going to happen, it’s ‘when’ it’s going to happen,” he said. “When it happens, I want (citizens) to know we’re prepared to handle it.”