Ofer Lichtman of Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.) is an expert on numerous subjects impacting the fire service, including Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) and terrorism awareness. Earlier this year, Lichtman provided an in-depth interview to TargetSolutions on strategies for emergency responders during active shooter incidents. This is the second part of that interview. Please click here to view Part 1.
How can first responders prepare for active shooter threats?
The Rancho Cucamonga Police and Fire Departments have had an active shooter response program since 2003 and have conducted over 136 scenarios involving multiple law enforcement and fire agencies from all over our region in Southern California. Each one of our firefighters is trained in TECC, multiple rescue task force (RTF) tactics and ICS (Incident Command System) for tactical response scenarios. Every one of our apparatuses is equipped with full ballistic PPE and tactical medical gear for every crew member.
In the first few years of our program, we focused on the small unit skills and tactics. As we progressed, we maintained a high level of competency and accountability at the crew level of our firefighters but we have also addressed strategic-level operations that focus on the elements that must be in place for our firefighters to get into the warm zone as fast as they can to actually make a difference.
As a training cadre, we study both past and possible future trends for active shooter types of scenarios and use those trends to build realistic and achievable scenarios in our own target hazards. For example, after the Aurora Theater shooting, we had four days of late night/early morning drills at a local movie theater. In these drills, all our RTFs had to wear their respiratory PPE and perform duties in a smoky, low visibility and loud environment to simulate a respiratory irritant at a confined entertainment venue.
The reality is that just like you can’t prevent every terrorist attack, you can’t be completely prepared for them either. You can, however, have a great response that will eliminate the threats and save as many lives as possible. One of the things that best highlights our preparation and reaction for the San Bernardino attack (in December of 2015) was during the incident, at the Unified Command Post we had a very strong suspicion that there were going to be other attacks in the county. We had to be proactive and prepare. Through good coordination, we deployed strike teams of RTFs from agencies that already had an RTF program in place to specific areas of the county where we thought the next attack could be. These RTFs that we had in staging around the region would have had very good response times if another incident would have happened and would have been able to save many lives.
Has anything changed as a result of these recent attacks?
Since the San Bernardino incident, we have personally trained 13 agencies in our county in the current RTF model that is used throughout the country. We have a very proactive, aggressive and practical program. In San Bernardino and Riverside counties we now have great coordination, not just with our law enforcement partners but with our mutual aid resources. If we speak the same language and understand each other’s objectives and what a specific resource can offer, then we will be prepared to help each other if a situation like this were to occur again.
One of the things we changed in the last year, and not specifically because of the San Bernardino incident, is that we now deploy our RTFs sooner than ever before. We want them to engage appropriately in a warm zone without necessarily making sure the ICS charts have been filled. In the past and in some cases still today, you see departments with RTF capabilities stage their RTFs while they wait to build an ICS chart, fill out the positions, wait to hear key words such as “Shooter is dead” and only then engage in treating patients. So you ask yourself, “have we really changed?” The reality is, we must treat casualties in the warm zone and provide care as soon as we can vs. spending time building an ICS chart. We have to allow the incident to dictate the ICS structure and not the other way around.
What would you like to see change in the future when it comes to these responses?
I believe that the golden standard for response to civilian mass violence should be redefining our trauma chain of survival followed by an aggressive data-driven first responder rescue program. Traditionally we looked at the trauma chain of survival as starting with the medical first responders (firefighters and paramedics; national average response time: eight minutes).
The problem with this concept is we are missing two significant groups of people that would always be on scene prior to most firefighters and paramedics. These groups are your non-medical first responders such as law enforcement (national average response time: three minutes). The second and most impactful group is your bystanders, who are on scene before anyone responds. Both of these groups can buy time for medical first responders by treating the injured when an event happens, especially if they are equipped with the means to do so. When these two essential links in the trauma chain of survival are in place then we will truly have a robust and successful trauma chain of survival that will potentially save more lives than ever before.
Additionally, I believe we must continue to focus on immediate-unified command between law enforcement, EMS and Fire. We must have a collective understanding that this is a multi-pronged response with multiple missions in these events and it’s imperative that we establish common incident objectives to meet all of them.
To read Part 1 of this two-part series, please click here.
About the Author
Ofer Lichtman started out as a first responder in Israel and is currently the Terrorism Liaison Officer Coordinator for Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.). Lichtman was instrumental in developing its Terrorism and Tactical Response Program. Lichtman is a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and is on the advisory board of the C-TECC.