School is in, is your active shooter response ready?

Chief Marc Bashoor

The beginning of each school year brings fresh lessons and opportunities to improve our service delivery, as well as new challenges for fire departments. The addition of school busses to the roadways adds additional traffic and obstacles for our emergency response drivers to navigate. Beyond school bus safety, fire and EMS departments are now on the front lines of a battle many of us couldn’t conceive of too many years ago.

Since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, the New York Times reports that more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings. Examining the data certainly gives first responders pause. What are often called “gun-free zones” have unfortunately become a field of play for those who wish to cause mayhem.

Rescue task force response

Rescue task forces, lock-downs, controlled campuses, limited access, active threat plans – if you haven’t been part of the planning process, you’ll be on the outside looking in, playing catch-up from the get go if an act of violence occurs at one of your community’s schools. From leadership, to line firefighters and emergency medical technicians, every one of us needs to be a part of the local solution to these threats.

I suspect your community, like mine, has had a multitude of plans, theories, exercises, videos and other processes put in place to mitigate school threats. The recently released NFPA 3000: Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program, provides valuable community-based options for a standard approach. While each state and local jurisdiction tends to have their own approach, the federal government’s Commission on School Safety recently completed public sessions on the topic of improving school safety. We can only hope at this point that uniform guidance will permeate our systems.

Engage in your community’s RTF solution

In the meantime, it’s on us to make sure we’re engaged and doing everything we can to be part of the solution. I strongly encourage you to work with all of your response partners on rescue task force protocols, ensuring your membership has the training and equipment necessary to engage. If you have not already, please investigate and invest in ballistic protection for your response folks, at least on your vehicles. This isn’t always an easy step, and tends to be controversial in the fire and EMS services.

Get into your community. Pre-planning educational facilities is a must for everything the fire and EMS services do, including active threat situations. Make sure you know the school’s plans, entrances, exits, protocols and communication methods. Make sure you know your response partners’ expectations and capabilities. It is incumbent upon each of us to be the solution – not the problem.

No doubt, some of you reading are saying, “the sheriff’s office handles that.” If you’re in this boat, it is beyond time for you to get involved – the opportunity won’t come to you, you’re going to have to go to the opportunity. Our children deserve it, you should demand it.

Take care, be safe and stay smart.

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