FRI 2018 Quick Take: Parkland: Seven minutes and 17 seconds

Lessons learned from incident command for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School MCI


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The communities of Coral Springs and Parkland were impacted by the ninth deadliest mass shooting event in U.S. history and the third deadliest school shooting to date when a shooter entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire with a long rifle. Within approximately 7 minutes, 34 people were killed or injured.

In their presentation at Fire-Rescue International, “Seven Minutes and 17 Seconds – The Fire and EMS Response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Terrorist Incident,” responding Chief Frank Babinec and Division Chief Michael Moser, Coral Springs-Parkland (Fla.) Fire Department detailed lessons learned from the response.

Police and rescue vehicles are shown outside Broward Health North hospital, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Deerfield Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Police and rescue vehicles are shown outside Broward Health North hospital, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Deerfield Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

Top quotes on lessons learned from Parkland, Fla.

“Parkland was ranked the fifteenth safest city in the nation in 2018. The point here? It can happen anywhere.” — Frank Babinec

“You’re  more likely to see one of these events in a place of commerce or the workplace.” — Frank Babinec

"Response should not be haphazard. People should not self -dispatch." — Frank Babinec

Top Takeaways from the fire/EMS response to Parkland, Fla.

Babinec and Moser spoke freely about what worked (and what didn’t) in the fire, EMS and law enforcement response to the MCI at MSD, and shared the following lessons they learned from the incident with attendees.

1. Ensure neighboring agencies, disciplines can communicate

Numerous factors contributed to communication delays and breakdowns between the responding agencies. From the start, the school’s location meant 911 calls were routed through two different call centers, Broward County and Coral Springs. The Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department, Coral Springs Police Department and the Broward Sheriff's Office would be among the first of multiple emergency responding agencies arriving to assess and mitigate the incident.

Early on, the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department established an incident command post on scene, but they don’t know if the Broward Sheriff’s Office received their radio transmissions. Another command post was initiated by BSO. Babinec noted it’s very important to check after a couple of minutes have gone by to ensure communications have been received in this kind of multidisciplinary and multi-agency response.

Responders faced patching and throttling issues with radio communications. Additionally, one hour into the incident, the shooter was still reported to be in the building, despite the building – just three stories, with only 30 classrooms – being flooded by law enforcement. Video footage showing the shooter within the building was later found to be on a delay of at least 20 minutes. The delay in confirming the shooter had fled contributed to the decision to not let the RTF inside.  

2. Establish and maintain a unified incident command

At one point during the response, the fire department IC received reports of patients on the football field, removed from the building, and requests to respond, as well as to relocate resources. Babinec was able to investigate personally, finding just one patient in an outbuilding, and prevent an IC move that wouldn’t have helped.

3. Agree on mutual aid, interdisciplinary response roles in advance

Though reports have questioned law enforcement’s decision not to use the fire department’s RTF team, Babinec pointed out this is a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking, and that the LE IC made the call based on the fact that the shooter’s whereabouts couldn’t be confirmed. “It was their decision, they made the decision, period,” Babinec said. The lesson is to work out with law enforcement ahead of time who will be allowed to do what, and to make sure you’re on the same page.

Additionally, Babinec noted the 911 calls do not stop coming in during an event like Parkland. Use mutual aid to ensure coverage for your response area if your resources are all responding to an MCI. CSPFD had three other cities provide coverage during this incident.

4. Quick treatment, transport saves lives

In the early stages of the incident, decisions were made to transport multiple patients in one ALS transport unit until additional units could reach the scene. Babinec pointed out what many of these patients needed was a surgeon – and quickly.

“Please don’t be tunnel visioned on these incidences being termed MCI,” Moser asked. Don’t let traditional triage get in the way of quickly transporting patients to trauma scenes.

Additionally, response should not be haphazard, Babinec cautioned. Everyone on scene needs to be accounted for (in case of a secondary incident) and vehicles need to be staged appropriately. Just one unit coming in the wrong direction will clog everything up, he said. In this incident, established travel lanes helped transporting units reach the expressway within 90 seconds of leaving the treatment area. He advised attendees to include a tow truck in their MCI response plan to remove obstacles.

Within 91 minutes of dispatch, all the victims had been transported from the scene, most suffering from multiple gunshot wounds at close range, some as many as four or five. Of the 17 with survivable injuries, all walked out of hospital, due to the exceptional life-saving measures taken on scene, applying chest seals, tourniquets and hemostatic agents, and the speed in which they reached the hospital.

5. Recognize the ongoing stress a MCI has on responders

Babinec described the Parkland MCI as a cascading event. In the following days and weeks, the community experienced reunification, family notifications, school walkouts, demonstrations, public official visits and more that called for additional response. “Don’t be afraid to lean on neighbor departments for help,” Babinec advised. His department relied on mutual aid agreements and made sure to notify its people when events were occurring, from vigils to funerals, so they wouldn’t be mentally blindsided or overtaxed.

And they started addressing mental health immediately, setting up a wellness command post that operated 24 hours a day for 30 days. Every member involved in the response was debriefed the night of the incident, with the help of CISM from Palm Beach and Broward counties – “everyone,” Babinec stressed. “Don’t forget your dispatch.”

He added the mental component needs to be considered early on, and noted they relied on a wide array of resources. “It’s impossible and improper to think everyone needs the same resources during a difficult time.” They solicited support from chaplains, CISM, counselors specially trained in treating first responders and therapy dogs. The IAFF brought responders from the Pulse Nightclub shooting to offer support. Greg Cassell, chief, Clark County (Nev.) offered to send firefighters who responded to the Las Vegas shooting. The incident commander from the Columbine shooting came to support Moser. “These little things were game changers,” Moser noted. 

“We knew we were not going to be able to do this on our own,” Babinec said. “Our folks saw things that day that they should never have to see.”

And they encouraged their firefighters to look out for each other. It’s one of the most important parts of this presentation,” Moser said. “We need to take care of each other.”

Babinec also stressed the importance of family-centric mental health planning. He and the chaplain handed out cards to firefighters’ family members, who sometimes were able to reach out and request help for their firefighter when he or she was unable to ask for themselves.

Additional Resources on the fire/EMS response to the Parkland, Fla. shooting

Learn more about the MCI response in Parkland, Fla., with these resources from FireRescue1:

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