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Fire department gets protective gear for faster response to active shooters

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind.-- Members of Johnson County’s White River Township Fire Department will be able to reach injured victims in an active-shooter situation much faster, thanks to some new gear and training.

The department now has six sets of ballistic vests, helmets and specialized trauma kits for use in an unsecured active-shooter scenario. The department is also taking part in joint active-shooter training with the Johnson County Sheriffs Department, Center Grove Police, Greenwood Police and other agencies.

“This puts our firefighters, paramedics and EMTs in the right protective equipment with police officers to get to the patient’s side much more quickly,” said Chief Jeremy Pell. “So we can stop life-threatening bleeding, get them care and get them evacuated faster than we’ve been able to in the past.”

Pell says a person can bleed to death in 90 seconds from a serious wound. Without the protective gear, Pell says firefighters and medics have to wait outside a building until police have the area secured, or a suspect detained.

“We would stage and wait for the police to show up, tell us that the scene is secure, and then we would go in,” Pell said. “Well in these large buildings, it takes a long time for the scene to become secure.”

Johnson County Sheriff Duane Burgess says the equipment and joint training represents and expanding partnership between law enforcement and fire departments.

“It’s awesome knowing that they’re right there with us to immediately render aid,” Burgess said. "It notches our response time up so much more where we can start saving people and getting them help immediately.”

Pell says it’s frustrating when firefighters and medics have to wait for a shooting scene to be secured before rushing to injured victims. Burgess said it’s equally frustrating when police are chasing an armed suspect and are unable to stop to help an injured victim. Both men say the joint response approach helps to solve that problem.

“I want to make sure our crews know they did everything within their power, had all the training, all the equipment they needed to give someone their best shot at surviving,” Pell said.

“We’re trying to get there as quick as we can and get those people help and get them moved out of a hot zone,” Burgess said.

Burgess said the joint rescue task force takes a cue from recent changes made by Hamilton County agencies in the wake of last year’s shooting at Noblesville West Middle School. He expects more Indiana agencies to adopt the same approach over time.

The protective equipment cost roughly $10,000, Pell said. It was made possible by a grant through Firehouse Subs.

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