Go/no-go: Active shooter/hostile event response
Whether to send crews into the warm zone is one of the most difficult for ICs
You are the first unit to arrive on scene of a reported active shooter event. What will be your initial actions? Is this a go or no-go scenario for fire crews? How do you decide?
As always, safety should be your first priority – that means your personal safety, the safety of other responders, and the safety of the community and those in harm’s way.
When dispatched to an active shooter incident, gather as much information as possible from the communication center. Your size-up starts as you respond to the incident based on the initial dispatch information and the updates received en route. Safety should be a factor in the initial size-up – and throughout the incident.
Several questions can help during this assessment:
- Is this incident contained within a structure or out in the open?
- What is the presenting threat, such as the site and/or sounds of active gunfire, obvious victims down and/or injured?
- Is law enforcement already on scene and, if so, in what location?
- Has law enforcement engaged with the assailant?
- Is there a non-civilian confirmation of an incident, or is this a possible false alarm/dry run?
Hot, warm, cold zones
As with a hazmat incident, you must determine the hot, warm and cold exclusion zones, and this information must be communicated to everyone responding.
- The Hot Zone is defined as an area where there is a known hazard or direct and immediate life threat.
- The Warm Zone is defined as an area where there is a potential for a hazard or an indirect threat to life.
- The Cold Zone is defined as the areas where there is little or no threat due to geographic distance from the threat, or the area has been secured by law enforcement.
Once on scene or in the general area, Command should be announced, with a location identified in the cold zone. Responding units should be staged in the direction of travel a safe distance away until the exclusion zones are clearly identified.
From the initial command, a Unified Command must be established with, as a minimum, the officer in charge of the fire rescue/EMS resources together with the law enforcement officer in charge of their resources.
A Unified Command would include, as a minimum, law enforcement, fire rescue and EMS, and may include any other essential agency that would have a role in the initial incident stabilization and hazard mitigation. In the Unified Command, the fire rescue, EMS and law enforcement officers in charge should share information that helps form the incident overview:
- Has law enforcement made contact with the assailant?
- Is the location of the assailant known?
- Is there active shooting still going on?
- Is there an area designated as the hot zone?
- How many victims?
- What additional resources will be required?
Difficult ‘warm zone’ decisions
Based on the information, the on-scene fire rescue/EMS officer in charge must determination if a rescue task force (RTF) should be deployed into the warm zone. This is that critical go- or no-go situation – a difficult decision for the incident commander.
As part of the unified command, confirm that the requested law enforcement resources will be dedicated to the RTF.
According to NFPA 3000, an RTF is a team of law enforcement or armed security, as authorized by the AHJ, that forms a secure perimeter around fire and EMS responders in order for them to provide threat-based care until extraction and egress is available.
If fire rescue/EMS resources are going to enter the designated warm zone, the personnel must be trained and equipped with the proper ballistic protection equipment (BPE), at a minimum a ballistic vest.
Hot zone entry
Fire rescue/EMS resources should not enter the hot zone unless specially trained with proper equipment, such as a SWAT/SRT medic. Warm zone personnel may be required to assist SWAT/SRT medics by possibly taking over victim care and evacuation once the victim is at the hot/warm zone boundary to allow the hot zone personnel to resume their duties.
An endless process
The response to an active shooter incident must be a collaborative effort between all first responders to ensure that everyone remains safe. First responders must always have situational awareness, as any type of call can become dangerous to the responders.
The decision to enter an active shooter incident warm zone will be one of the hardest decisions a commanding officer will ever make. This decision, when made, must also be constantly re-evaluated based on the changing dynamics of the incident. The evaluation of the go/no-go decision is an unending process.
The only constant in an incident like this will be change.