It was smoky, hot and pitch black, with screams piercing the air all around as deputies, accompanied by emergency medical service (EMS) professionals made their way into the building; deputies first, guns drawn, calling out their presence as they entered, stepping past a dead body before walking further into the darkness. They brought out the walking wounded first, then returned with EMS personnel in tow, to triage the remainder of the wounded, bringing them out on makeshift stretchers, carrying them on their backs, or in their arms; announcing their presence as they came in and out.
Luckily, this time it was all part of a drill, a preparation for the unthinkable, but the possible.
“There have been 296 mass shootings in the United States, as of Sept. 1,” said Crystal Shelnutt, of Adaptive Training Consultants, a company that works with local EMS, firefighters and law enforcement to train them in best practices in the event of a mass shooting (mass shootings are considered those with four or more victims) or another catastrophic event.
Last Thursday, EMS personnel, along with the sheriff’s office and firefighters from Madison, Clarke, Jackson, Oglethorpe, Elbert and Barrow counties gathered at the Old Colbert Elementary school building to hold training for a day they hope never comes.
Madison County EMS director Bobby Smith said the event was one of four covered by grant funding in EMS Region 10. He said the day provided some valuable learning for emergency personnel.
“It basically teaches us how to mitigate an active shooter situation,” said Smith.
Shelnutt, along with Ben Ewing, work with public safety officers in a this area through a Georgia Trauma Commission grant to provide training in how to respond to a mass casualty event. The training, called TECC (Tactical Emergency Casualty Care), helps local EMS professionals coordinate their response to such events to get onto the scene as possible and reduce the number of lives lost.
“We call it ‘stop the killing, stop the dying,’” Shelnutt said.
Ewing said public safety officials have learned a lot since the Columbine High School shooting back in 1999.
“Back then, the thinking was to stage EMS around the corner somewhere while law enforcement stopped the threat and cleared the site before allowing anyone else in,” Ewing said. “At Columbine that took three hours – three hours during which more students died waiting for help to come.”
Since then, Ewing said, they’ve been working hard learning how to respond better; using each subsequent tragedy like the Las Vegas shooting and others, to figure out how to stop the shooter(s) while also bringing medical aid and other assistance in faster.
He said now law enforcement works to stop the shooter(s) and escorts EMS professionals onto the scene to triage and remove victims as soon as possible.
“Our hope is that by teaching them current best practice procedures, folks will take that training and use it to build a local plan unique to their service area,” Shelnutt said.
To set up these scenarios, they use 22 volunteers to play the part of “victims” and have six medics on hand at a time, along with law enforcement, to work the scene. They use distraction such as smoke and unexpected noises to help the medics learn how to manage different obstacles they may encounter, noting that often a mass shooter might also start a fire or set off an explosive to cause more chaos and confusion.
“We hope they by going through these scenarios it helps them to develop critical thinking skills,” Shelnutt said. “Like we tell them, we’re giving you tools for your toolbox.”
They set up the scenarios in different counties in their region to give all medics, regardless of their shift schedule, the opportunity to attend at least one of the training sessions.