Rescue Task Forces --- paramedics paired with law-enforcement personnel --- on a recent Saturday morning trained in a full-scale, active-shooter exercise at the Pinal County Superior Courthouse in Florence.
The Pinal County Office of Emergency Management hosted the event to evaluate the coordination of personnel from the Florence police and fire departments, Pinal County Sheriff’s office, Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department, Superstition Fire and Medical District, Rural/Metro Fire Department and others.
Police and sheriff officials used simunitions --- non-lethal training ammunition --- with marking projectiles similar to a small paintball for the first phase, which involved stopping people with guns who took over a courtroom of a judge, jurors and others.
In the second phase, law-enforcement officials used bright-colored, molded-plastic simulated weapons that could not fire projectiles. Realistic sounds were produced by a court official firing blank cartridges from a handgun. It was in this phase that medical personnel were included.
“There’s two stages to it. In this first part, where you hear the simunitions, the weapons that they use actually have a projectile that comes out and can injure somebody, so anybody who is in (there) has to have protective equipment on,” Chuck Kmet, emergency manager for Pinal County, said.
“Obviously we don’t have enough for the 100 people --- or however many people we’ve got --- so we decided to do this first portion where the law-enforcement agencies went to the threat and the bad guys who came in were ‘neutralized’ in whatever fashion that may be. So once they’ve established that the threat is neutralized, then there’s a pause in the exercise, then they’ll get all of the volunteers --- the actors and the victims who are on the third floor --- downstairs,” he said.
Actors used as victims had makeup of blood and varied stages of injuries.
“Most of them will … have some injury of some shape or some form. And then, when we start back up and resume, that’s when you’ll see the fire trucks come in and ambulances and they’ll start putting together the Rescue Task Force, which is typically two law-enforcement officers with two firefighters, paramedics or firefighter/EMTs, and they’ll go in together to assess the situation,” Mr. Kmet said.
Some time after the first shots were heard, several actors wearing helmets and neck gauntlets, and with arms raised high, exited the front of the courthouse --- 971 Jason Lopez Circle, off of Highway 79 --- and ran to the parking lot.
Two of those were volunteers Wil Humphrey and Erik Rhodes.
“Just runners. We had to kind of just get the ball rolling, create a little bit of realism by screaming and yelling,” Mr. Humphrey, of Chandler, an Arizona State University student in the emergency management program, said.
The helmets were a precaution, but they were not shot at with the simunitions, Mr. Rhodes, of Gilbert, said.
“We were kind of in-between people who had simunitions and things and so they just wanted to make sure that we were safe,” he said.
“It was cool. It was very real. Like, once they started firing those shots, it like really got your blood pumping. You’re like, ‘Oh crap. Something’s going on,’ you know?” Mr. Rhodes said.
It’s important for officials to train in such scenarios, Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Humphrey said.
“Just precautions, you know, just in case something like this does happen,” Mr. Rhodes said.
“To make sure that our training actually culminates in something effective as well as develop social capital between agencies in order to actually develop a cohesive unit when they do need to be deployed together,” Mr. Humphrey said.
Social capital is when people learn to care for one-another’s well-being, he said.
“Scenarios like this bring agencies together, it puts a face to another agency and allows them to go, ‘Hey, I’m working with him, so that way we can perform well when the time actually comes,’” Mr. Humphrey said.
At the beginning of the 8 a.m.-2 p.m. June 15 exercise, medical and law-enforcement personnel stood in a large circle for a briefing at the far end of the parking lot.
Gilbert, Eloy, Queen Creek and Apache Junction medical personnel gathered with Florence PD, Pinal County sheriff’s deputies and others to go over last-minute details. They included Superstition Fire and Medical District crews with Engine 263 and Medic 263, the district’s transportation director and a battalion chief.
SFMD has fire/medical stations in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon.
“We were invited and this is the … emergency operations drill for Pinal County and part of that component is going to be an active shooter and we’re going to, as mutual aid partners, we’re part of that Pinal County response and we’re going to just participate in the drill and learn from it and come back and present even at our department all of the things that are good,” SFMD Battalion Chief Jeff Cranmer said prior to the exercise. He later donned a vest and evaluated medical crews in the courthouse lobby and as victims were taken to waiting ambulances.
Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department had one battalion chief, two captains and an engine company at the training.
“It is important for fire and law enforcement to train with one another, particularly for active-shooter events. Working with law enforcement, we are training on how to safely reduce the time of entering an incident to apply life-saving, stop-the-bleed interventions,” Battalion Chief Cody Goble said June 19.
A large monitor with 16 live videos showing the exercise unfolding in the courthouse was at a VIP tent in the parking lot.
Officials at the tent included Capt. Greg Lugo, commander of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office District 6 – Queen Creek; Brian Gilbert, assistant chief of operations for Rural/Metro Fire Department; and Mike Goodman, chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.
“We just wanted to gather a perspective of seeing the Rescue Task Force concept in action, seeing the multi-agency cooperation in action, and it’s always good to network and understand what your adjoining jurisdictions are doing and agencies to make sure we’re prepared in the unfortunate event that something like this happens,” MCSO Capt. Lugo said at the event.
Rural/Metro Fire Department personnel from Engine 843 based in Copper Basin of San Tan Valley and two additional captains trained at the exercise, RMFD Assistant Chief Gilbert said.
The training is needed so multiple agencies working together can share thoughts and processes, he said.
“For fire, you get to learn what the police department does. The police department gets to learn how the fire department reacts to this. And of course, the Rescue Task Force is a new concept that’s been out there awhile, so more departments are starting to train with it --- a police/fire training aspect, which both departments, both agencies, have got to both be on the same page,” Assistant Chief Gilbert said.
Law-enforcement and medical officials will learn a lot by training together, Chairman Goodman said. He saw it firsthand later when he watched the second phase from the lobby of the courthouse, where sheriff’s deputies and police officers cleared the facility and guarded emergency medical personnel as they triaged victims.
“You know, preparedness is probably the most vital thing, especially in today’s society, with a lot of the incidents that have taken place across the country. I don’t think we can be over-prepared,” he said before the training started.
“This is really important because we have all of the different agencies that could be involved in this type of situation and then being able to coordinate that exercise before it actually happens and determine who has what roles in this type of a process is vital…. If it ever arises, it would be so chaotic; this kind of help eliminates some of that,” Chairman Goodman said.
“It’s all about saving lives and preventing any further damage and so this kind of an exercise will also determine some areas where they can improve on,” he said.