Calif. firefighters key to SWAT active-shooter competition

A scenario at Urban Shield 2013 challenged SWAT teams to incorporate the Fremont Fire Department into their active shooter response plans

By Doug Wyllie

Name one thing a SWAT team could do to increase the survivability of the victims of an active shooter. Have a tactical EMS medic (or two) on the team, right?

Now take that to the next level. What’s next? What about brining paramedics and EMTs into the fight? That would require some serious multi-discipline training, but that might be time well spent if it saves just one life.

Alameda County (Calif.) Sheriff Gregory Ahern — and his tremendous team of planners who put together Urban Shield 2013 — thinks it does, because this mindset was in evidence at Scenario 19 during this year’s event.

Inspired by the April 2012 incident at Oikos University in Oakland that left seven people dead, this training exercise specifically challenged the competing SWAT teams to incorporate personnel from the Fremont (Calif.) Fire Department into their plans to deal with an active shooter.

In an event such as this one — or in real-world tragedies like we saw in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. — the faster the victims are medically attended to, the more likely they are to live.

Scenario 19
In this scenario, the site was not Code Four by any stretch of the imagination. The SWAT team was briefed that an active shooter was secured and barricaded in one room in the mock high-rise at the Fremont Fire training campus. They also learned that there were a number of victims — all of whom had been shot — sheltered in place in another room in the building.

The goal for the SWAT teams was to escort Fremont Fire personnel into the warm zone so they could provide aid, while also tactically making their own way to the gunman. The decisions the teams had to make were extraordinary.

Embedded firefighters were instructed to tell SWAT personnel, “Here! I need you here! Apply pressure to this wound!”

Then, that barricaded suspect began threatening to shoot from a second-floor window.

What to do? Should they split the team and leave SWAT guys to provide 360 to those victims and firefighter partners? Do you tell those folks to hunker down and take the whole team to deal with the armed threat?

In most SWAT training involving medically trained personnel, we’re dealing with SWAT guys who are also TEMS guys. In this scenario, we had “ordinary firefighters,” as the site captain put it to me.

Not armed. Not SWAT trained. Just going in and providing life-saving tactics under the armed protection of the SWAT teams competing in Urban Shield. A real challenge, for all involved.

San Leandro SWAT test
I was privileged to observe the stellar team from San Leandro (Calif.) SWAT for this scenario. The San Leandro PD has clearly done prior work with their firefighter partners — and kudos to them for that.

During the briefing before the exercise, the team asked well-informed questions about how to best interact with the firefighters in the scenario. During execution of the exercise, their use of the fire assets was outstanding.

They had that team of firefighters fully protected to do their jobs. They worked with the embedded fire responders to efficiently move ambulatory and non-ambulatory victims to safety.

Guys who probably had never said word one to each other before the pre-exercise brief, working together like a well-oiled machine.

It was beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful nonetheless. There were certainly some opportunities for improvement, but the practice field is the place to discover those — not a real-world scenario!

A great (and repeatable) training partnership
The firefighters I encountered at this training scenario were nothing short of amazing. They were as gung-ho to train as any of the coppers with whom I usually do my training.

I won’t quote any of them by name — I’m pretty sure they’re not approved spokesmen for their great department — but comments ranged from “this great training” to “this was an amazing opportunity to “a great opportunity to work on our skills.”

One guy did lament that there wasn’t a bed or a cot or a La-Z-Boy available. I’ll let that one go. After all, he was on site for the full 48 hours, and if I were him I’d be looking for some nap time between drills too.

Make no mistake, I’d go into a firefight — with gunfire and/or an actual raging fire — with any one of these folks any day of the week. To say that Fremont Fire Department is top tier is to fail in fully crediting them with their excellence.

In my opinion, they’re an exemplary model for any FD to call upon for training tips.

Purpose-built training opportunity
If you have the right police and fire leaders, you can create similar training scenarios in your area. The Fremont facility is practically brand new — they’ve been running academies there for just about two years now — but new or well-worn, somewhere in your region something like it exists.

Take full advantage.

The fire training facility is a perfect place for training like this. It is purpose-built, a warren of stairwells and hallways and rooms with tricky entryways. It’s also going to be used for firefighter training after the combined police-and-fire training is done, so any marks left on the wall by Sims rounds are going to get hosed down quite thoroughly.

Like anybody involved in the law enforcement world, I take pretty much every given opportunity to make a joking remark about our fire and EMS partners. But I joke because I love. I’ve had the tremendous fortune to train with these guys and gals, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world.

The exercises at Urban Shield 2013 were proof positive that the guns-and-hoses rivalry is really and truly best left for a football game or an amateur boxing match.

We’re all in this to save lives. Train that way together, and we will do just that, I assure you.

Stay safe, my brothers and sisters. 

About the author:

Doug Wyllie is editor-in-chief of, a sister site to To contact Doug, email

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