By Staff Sgt. Adam RossAugust 10, 2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The mass shooting at Columbine High School in Aurora, Colo., happened over 20 years ago, but there's a part of it that is still fresh in the memory of Travis Smith, a firefighter paramedic with West Pierce Fire and Rescue.
"There was a teacher who was shot in the neck and bleeding, but it took over four hours for paramedics to clear the scene and get to him," Smith said. "There was a three hour window where he could have been saved."
Twice this summer, law enforcement and rescue agencies from around Washington, Oregon and Southern Canada have gathered on JBLM to train with their Department of Defense counterparts on communication, tactical response, and incident management skills that could be used to save lives in an active shooter scenario.
At the Active Threat Response Training on Aug. 1, hosted by JBLM's Department of Emergency Services (DES), Smith and fellow paramedic Rob Mayzak lead training on rendering immediate aid to a patient with gunshot wounds. While Military Police are routinely trained on first aid as part of their basic Soldier skills, it's a relatively new experience for civilian police.
"Fifteen years ago, you would never see a cop doing first aid," said Mayzak. "Now it's phenomenal because we get calls and get to the scene and the cop has already put a tourniquet on [the patient]."
Hillside Elementary on JBLM was the site for both training events, and its hallways, stairwells and cafeteria were filled with a myriad of uniformed military and civilian officers. Several training lanes were set up around the school and groups rotated through to hone skills on operating as a group with an active shooter threat and responding to survivors.
The school presented a realistic training environment that showcased the challenges first-responders would face when entering a hostile situation.
"It's a good way to get everyone together in an area that's not an empty warehouse," said Capt. Thomas Ciota, operations officer for JBLM DES. "They may have to respond to a school shooting in their jurisdiction, and have to keep in mind these things, like classroom layout or where stairs are located."
Training together in a central location also aimed to foster better communication between civilian and military law enforcement. A large scale trauma event, like the December 2017 AmTrak derailment in DuPont, Wash., tested the inter-agency communication with local responders and nearby JBLM authorities.
"In addition to building relationships and developing communication strategies in a multi-agency response, these training events are important to establish a common response protocol across the region," said Ted Solonar, JBLM Deputy DES. "No one agency has all of the resources necessary to respond to this kind of tragic event. Should it happen here, we will have to rely on all of our partners to get through it."
For the military participants in the training, it was a chance to experience a civilian perspective on the training, and see how they communicate.
"You can go into any scenario and work side-by-side with someone you've never seen before, because you've done the cross-training," said 2nd Lt. Darin Blocker, a duty officer with 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade. "You can understand how they're going to move and how they're going to communicate, and that's important."
Future inter-agency training events will utilize other buildings on JBLM and focus on different law enforcement scenarios.