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Olympia firefighters receive new active shooter training

(Courtesy of Jim Brown)

When someone decides to become a firefighter, they may be thinking about responding to blazes. They might not consider that firefighters could come under fire in an active shooter scenario. But that is the new job description.

“At Olympia, we started carrying tactical vests three years ago when we launched our active shooter response program,” said Captain Jim Brown with the Olympia Fire Department. “The fire service is a dynamic industry and we have to change as things evolve.”

“Nowadays … it’s not a matter of if this is going to happen in our career, it’s a matter of when and at what scale,” he said. “We want to prepare ourselves to be ready to go when this happens.”

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Like many other fire departments, Olympia has been training its firefighters to respond to active shooter calls along with police. This is largely because fire departments supply emergency medical services (EMS) to such calls.

Brown said that the infamous Columbine school shooting started an evolution in the firefighting industry. Firefighters and EMS once stayed back and prepared for patients while SWAT teams handled the threat. Now, EMS goes in with police to get to victims as soon as possible.

“We will only deploy in certain circumstances,” Brown said. “And we will deploy with a rescue task force, which is a team of both firefighters and police … the police job is to protect us and escort us into a scene, into an area called a warm zone. A hot zone is where there is active shooting still happening. A warm zone is an area where the shooter has come through and there may be viable patients in there.”

There could be secondary devices left behind by the shooter, but Brown says EMS takes that risk when they go into a warm zone. Instead of the usual thick jacket and helmet associated with firefighters, they wear tactical vests, and carry medical gear akin to a combat medic.

Firefighters’ job description

Seattle Firefighter Union President Kenny Stuart told the Ron and Don Show that his department has noticed a more dangerous work environment in recent months.

“The people either on the street or in the shelters are increasingly aggressive, actually assaulting firefighters in a way that we just haven’t seen before,” Stuart said.

“We are seeing an uptick of violence against firefighters as we responded to the public and to the folks in those shelters,” he said. “The violence is not just against firefighters, it’s also directed at the vulnerable folks in that population, as well as workers, citizens, and tourists.”

Seattle firefighters have a new policy that requires them to send greater numbers of personnel to calls in certain neighborhoods.

Brown said that it isn’t that bad in Olympia. They still have to be on guard, however.

“We definitely have to have heightened situational awareness all the times,” Brown said. “We are being exposed to risks we never thought we would be in the past.”

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