Paramedics and Active Shooter Situations: Evolving Tactics

By: Al Garber, FBI SWAT Team Commander (ret) and Chief of Police, Champlin, MN  (ret)

In the mid 1980s our joint FBI/ Minneapolis Police SWAT team began to experiment with integrating paramedics with the team. We found an innovative medical director at North Memorial Ambulance Services.

The concept was to have selected medics train with the team so that the medics would accompany the team on operations. The idea was that the closer the medics were to the operation the better chance they would have to save an injured SWAT team member’s life.

Eventually the tactics evolved so that on every operation SWAT team members were assigned as paramedic security. This team selected a position close to the action. The training went well and these tactics were used over and over to everyone’s advantage.

Other benefits which were not anticipated were medics preparing for situations where hydration was an issue; where poisonous snake bites were an issue; team members got great training, and there were others.

There were never any tactics that called for the medics to enter the actual operational area (building). We all (both SWAT and paramedics) thought that the medics could not use their skills if they were under fire. This thought was agreed upon despite the fact that many of the members and medics had military combat experience.

But times have changed. Active shooters have become an issue of great concern. Experience has proven that these horrific situations are over well before SWAT can mobilize and go into action.

Now it is the police patrol officers who will determine the outcome. Police are increasingly being trained (as much as is possible) to react in active shooter situations.

That brings me to the role of paramedics. Recently I spoke to Mike Murphy. Mike is a 30 year plus paramedic supervisor with North Ambulance. Mike was also one of the first medics to train and operate with our joint SWAT team. I respect his opinion.

Mike told me that he and other medics are not comfortable being in a relatively safe area during an active shooting situation waiting for the casualties to be brought to them.

It is time to re-evaluate police medics’ tactics. Both Mike and I believe that in today’s world where active shooters are an all too common occurrence, paramedics need to become more like military combat medics. The paramedics need to train with patrol officers to prepare for active shooter incidents. As one medic put it, the scene of an active shooter is no place for the police and the paramedics to exchange business cards.

There is another idea worth considering. I am aware of a company that produces up-armored vans that don’t appear to be armored. The company is Armor Group of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If a vehicle that was armored and was routinely on patrol responded to an active shooter, both the patrol officers and the medics could be in the vehicle quickly. They could approach the danger area and maybe even drive into the building. These vehicles can be equipped with devices that enable the occupants to hear outside noises (screaming, shots). If this vehicle is to make a difference, it has to be on patrol and not stored in the SWAT garage.

I have read much about this concept of having the medics enter the danger area with the first responding patrol officers. Not everyone agrees. Some believe that medics should not be on the front lines. I believe the time has come. With so many lives at stake our tactics need redesigning.

What do you think?