Veteran firefighters likely did not realize when they signed up for the job that they would have to train and possibly respond to incidents where there are multiple victims from acts of hostility. Most typically, these acts can involve gunshot wounds, improvised explosive devices, vehicle assaults, knife attacks, and chemical incidents.
We have entered an era where these events are becoming more frequent, and there is no indication the frequency will subside. There is no specific venue that is the target of these events, although schools seem to be the most prominent. These events have also occurred at concerts, nightclubs, churches, sporting venues, malls, and basically anywhere people gather.
Bulletproof vests are quickly becoming standard issue as a means of firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE). How many of us who joined the fire service more than 20 years ago ever thought we would see the day we would have to wear bulletproof vests for our own protection? How many of us thought we would have to train for such events?
One common denominator in almost all the events, unfortunately, is the lack of coordination among the multiple responding and recovery agencies. This leads to a very hazardous environment for firefighters. There have been incidents where law enforcement has been on one side of a building and the fire service on the other side, and neither side could communicate with each other. The agency turfs and boundaries must be blended to provide a safer environment.
So, what is the answer? On the surface, it would appear these are primarily law enforcement lead agency events, and that is likely true. Unfortunately, law enforcement and the other responding agencies do not have a mechanism for developing a standardized best practices document to cover these types of events. Enter the fire service!
A Standard Is Born
Following the Pulse Nightclub tragedy in Orlando in June 2016 where 49 people were killed and 58 others were wounded, Orange County (FL) Fire Department Chief Otto Drozd III began a big push to develop a standard to address these events.
Whom did Chief Drozd approach? The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Amazingly, and fortunately, there were driving forces that brought an unlikely group of agencies to the NFPA table. A technical committee was formed with representatives from the following groups: International Association of Police Chiefs, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Association of EMTs, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, EMS Labor Alliance, hospital officials, private security authorities, university personnel facility managers, and others. Chief Drozd is a member of the technical committee, and it is chaired by Richard Serino, recently retired chief operating officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, former chief of Boston EMS, and current faculty member at Harvard University. All these groups “bought in” to the concept of the standard, and all support it. On May 1, 2018, the end result was NFPA 3000, Standard for Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events.
The standard is unique in a couple of other ways. For only the second time in the 121-year history of the NFPA, it authorized the development of a “provisional” standard. This means it was fast-tracked because of the urgency of the situation. This is most impressive, as efforts to establish a standard began in October 2016. The NFPA Standards Council authorized the development in June 2017. Public comments were gathered in four months, and the standard has been released. Typically, a new project like this takes at least twice this long. In addition, the technical committee consists of 50 people, and some of the members were actively involved in some of the more notable events. Almost all other NFPA technical committees have a maximum of 30 members.
It is important to note that the standard does not outline “how” to mitigate an incident. This is an interesting parallel to other “fire service” standards in that there is not an NFPA standard that outlines “how” a fire department should suppress a fire. The scope of NFPA 3000 is as follows: “This standard provides the minimum criteria for the level of competence required for responders organizing, managing, and sustaining an active shooter and/or hostile event preparedness and response program based on the authority having jurisdiction’s (AHJ) function and assessed level of risk. A review of the laws, regulations, consensus standards, and guidance documents in addition to guidance for risk assessment, training materials, active shooter response planning, resource management, staffing, training, financial management, programs influences, medical treatment modalities, resiliency, recovery, and developing relationships are covered in this standard. This standard applies to any community, AHJ, facility, and member of any organization who responds to or prepares for active shooter and/or hostile events.”
All fire departments should become familiar with this standard and become leaders in developing unified command and planning for such events. It is believed that many local governments will adopt this standard because it is a consensus standard developed in an open process by multiple agencies, all in support of the standard. Consider the liability of a local government that ignores or rejects this standard!
It is not a standard that will have a huge economic impact to implement. It requires all the players to come to the table and work together in developing plans. It is reported that the state of Ohio started implementing measures outlined within the standard before it was officially released. Of note is that the standard requires that each agency share their applicable policies with all the other participating agencies.
As I listened to and watched a presentation about this standard, it was conveyed that a few communities now send a full-alarm assignment directly to the local hospital to help with patient movement and coordination. Previous events have revealed that hospital janitorial staff were used to help move patients. This is a role in which firefighter/EMTs can be of great value.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).