CUBA CITY—In a progressive approach to first response in active shooter situations, local police officers have included fire and EMS volunteers in training situations. The mission is to get those injured to treatment as quickly as possible.
“We started this training because with every mass casualty event there is something else that we can learn,” Cuba City Police Chief Terry Terpstra said. “As a rural area, we have to figure out different alternatives to deal with situations like that, where we don’t have the resources or the man power a full-time fire or EMS would have. The idea is to try to embed the EMTs and fire into the situation, once we make it safe enough that they can come in, to get the wounded out and to the hospital within that first critical hour.”
Terpstra said the goal is to get someone in there who can stop the bleeding or open an airway to give victims a better chance of survival.
Michael Gorham, a Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department deputy, training officer for the Cuba City Area Rescue Squad and teacher for tactical education, helped Terpstra facilitate the training of fire and EMS volunteers on Wednesday, May 11.
“In 1997, the police response to active shooters changed,” Gorham said. “It used to be that the SWAT team would be called to deal with the problem. After Columbine [school shooting in Littleton, Colo.], they determined that they needed patrol officers in there instead of waiting for the SWAT team.”
In larger cities, fire and EMS are typically trained for assisting at the scene of a shooting to help get people to treatment as quickly as possible.
“People died [in recent shooting situations] because of suffering from significant injuries,” Gorham said. “They could die in three to five minutes without treatment. There was a resurgence within the fire and EMS community to see what they could do. Now we’re training police to escort them in to get the patient to care sooner.”
Gorham said Milwaukee and Oak Creek were some of the first communities in Wisconsin to start tactical training with fire and EMS.
“Nobody in Southwest Wisconsin actually tried to make a plan of this type operational,” Gorham said. “Terry [Terpstra] came to the Cuba City Area Rescue Squad with an idea and together we’ve worked on a plan to train anybody who wants it.”
Terpstra said he’s been a part of a tactical team for approximately 15 years and the group practiced the movements every month. However, the practices didn’t include other police officers.
“We want to expand this training to everyday patrol officers because it’s likely that they’ll be the first on the scene and will need to know how to respond,” Terpstra said. “The tactical team could take as long as 40 minutes to respond to a scene due to the rural setting.”
Terpstra said Cuba City has been training on tactical response situations and other lo-cal police officers have been invited to training scenarios. They’ve been practicing how to take care of the initial threat.
“The next step was to work on training fire and EMS,” Terpstra said. “The step that I want to take after this is, in June sometime, to open it up to the public, anyone who works somewhere with more than a few employees, so that if they ever have a situation like this they know how to deal with it. We’ve also trained the school on how to respond to this type of situation and have added the WAVE communication system at the school. We’ve been putting all of the pieces together, then this summer we want to have a full-blown scenario where we put all of the pieces together and run through an active shooter situation.”
“It’s an unthinkable event,” Gorham said. “I equate it to a fire extinguisher. We don’t want to see it happen every day; we don’t want our training validated, but we want to be prepared to save as many lives as possible. None of these types of events ever have a happy ending. I’m praying it never happens, but if it does, I don’t want to be caught in the dark.”
Gorham said Cuba City has a long history of being progressive with law enforcement training.
“Terry wanted to try something progressive in Cuba City,” Gorham said. “He’s continuing that tradition.”
“It’s a newer concept that hasn’t quite taken off yet,” Terpstra said. “Being in a rural area, we don’t really have a choice. We have to try to find ways to make it work.”
Terpstra said with the Columbine school shooting, lives were lost because of waiting for the SWAT team to arrive. The shooting went on for 17 minutes.
The new training teaches officers to enter the situation when there are two to four police officers at the scene.
“That drops the shooting time to three to four minutes,” Terpstra said. “It allows us to get the wounded to treatment facilities as quickly as possible.”
Terpstra said Aurora, Colo., was the first to start this after the movie theater shooting in 2012.
“They realized they had all of these people with injuries and were overwhelmed, but they saved a lot of lives by getting them to treatment facilities within the first hour,” Terpstra said.
Terpstra said the active shooter situations can happen anywhere.
“We focus a lot on the schools, but it could take place at a business or anywhere,” Terpstra said. “We focus on the schools because that’s where the kids are and we want to make sure that we protect them.”
Gorham said the fire and EMS volunteers are provided with a lot of training to help prepare them for a wide range of situations.
“These are people who sacrifice their time to help others in their time of need,” Gorham said.
Those participating in the May 11 training were from the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department; Arena, Benton, Cuba City, Dickeyville and Shullsburg police departments; and Cuba City, Dickeyville and Platteville emergency medical service (EMS) squads.
“The goal is to get surrounding counties trained on this so, God forbid, if it ever does happen, everybody is on the same page and knows how to work together,” Terpstra said. “This is something we want to expand further. It’s to get them familiar with it, but as volunteers they have to decide if they’re willing to make that commitment. I understand if they don’t want to do it. At least they’ll be trained and have some knowledge if they do want to step up and help in that type of situation.”
Terpstra said in the future he hopes to fundraise for ballistic vests and helmets for the fire and EMS volunteers. The police officers have a limited number of vests and helmets for active shooter situations and those entering buildings under that type of situation should be protected as best as possible.
“This was a brand new training for us, but it went really well,” Gorham said. “Now we’re being flooded with requests to do the training in other communities. We already have requests to work with Shullsburg and Darlington jointly and with Boscobel by the end of the summer.”
Terpstra said the Cuba City School District has been immensely helpful with the training. The school provided the training location and has been very proactive concerning the safety of the students and staff.
“We don’t want to be the department that has to react to something,” Terpstra said. “We want to be proactive and be trained for potential situations so it becomes a little more fluid or a better response if it happens.”
The four instructors of the training were Rita Luna, Josh Jerry, Terpstra and Gorham. They rotated groups through four different stations. Two training stations focused on fire and EMS volunteers moving through the hallways with police officers to find wounded victims. Another training station featured ways to carry or lift victims to remove them from the situation as quickly as possible without adding to their injuries. The fourth group learned how to set up a triage area near the site to treat the victims with severe injuries. The group trained from 5-9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.