If there was a school shooting in Saline or Washtenaw County, would our emergency personnel be ready to respond?
Firefighters and police from Saline and nearby counties continue to train for such an eventuality.
Last month, firefighters and police officers from Saline and around the county participated in training at Saline Middle School. The focus of the training exercise that day was “Rescue Task Force” operations, a more assertive approach to rendering life-saving care in buildings where an active shooter might still be active.
Pittsfield Township Fire Department Captain Jeff Foulke has provided “Rescue Task Force” training at 19 different Washtenaw Mutual Aid Association events. As Foulke describes it, in the past, it was up to law enforcement to nullify the threat. A building needed to be secure before firefighters and EMTs entered to care for the wounded.
“By secure, what we mean is, take care of the bad guy. Check every door, check every closet, look under desks. At that point, they can call in fire or EMS, and then we can treat victims,” Foulke said. “In a large area or building, that can take one, two or three hours. During that time, people might be dying of what might otherwise be non-fatal wounds.”
What rescue task force does is allow for near simultaneous neutralization of the threat and treatment of the wounds.
“So we’re entering the building before the shooter is neutralized, or just after he has been neutralized, under police coverage. We wear ballistic protective equipment, helmets, vests, plate carriers. We go in with 360 degrees of protection from law enforcement, treat people and get them out of the building,” Foulke said.
In recent years, the Saline Area Fire Department, for example, has purchased protective equipment for such a scenario.
Are local police and fire ready to employ rescue task force operations? Not quite.
“We’re not response capable. We’re extremely close. But we’re not quite response-capable,” Foulke said.
Washtenaw County is a little behind the times, despite the efforts of the Washtenaw Mutual Aid Association. According to Foulke, Livingston County emergency responders have been trained. Saline Police Chief Jerrod Hart said Oakland County emergency responders have been trained. In Washtenaw County, most firefighters and police officers from most local departments and from the Michigan State Police have undergone training. But there’s one agency that’s not participated – and it’s hard to ignore. The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, to date, has not joined the Washtenaw Mutual Aid Association for training.
Saline Police Chief Hart said in the case of a school shooting, law enforcement from local, county, state and even federal jurisdictions naturally deploy. One would expect the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, with all of its resources, would deploy to any incident in the county.
Hart, who extolls the virtues of teamwork nearly every time he speaks about law enforcement and emergency response, said it’s important that responders are operating from the same playbook.
“It’s critically important,” Hart said. “We will have police officers, local, state and federal resources, that naturally self deploy to a situation, knowing they could be of use whether they are going to be a team seeking out the threat or as a rescue task force member.”
Rescue task force is still being considered, according to Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton.
“As it relates to active shooter/aggressor situations, all of the agencies in the county agreed several years ago that it is best to coordinate our response and training,” Clayton said. “There have been some initial conversations on how the original plan and training that we did a couple of years ago needs to evolve. We are not opposed to the added response team function at all, it seems like a viable option.”
Though the WSCO has not yet joined training with firefighters, Hart is confident they will be ready.
“I am confident that if something were to take off right here in our community, that the sheriff’s department would be able to fall in with us and we would be lockstep,” Hart said.
Asked if he’d like to see the WCSO join rescue task force training efforts, Hart said the Saline Police Department is actively seeking ways to join their weekly training exercises.
“There’s a collaborative effort that’s just starting to bubble up and come to the surface,” Hart said. “We want to do more training with all of the agencies around us.”