Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

To Save Lives and Property: High Threat Response

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

To Save Lives and Property: High Threat Response

Article excerpt


Fire fighters face the risk of being hurt, injured or killed responding to community-based emergencies throughout the United States. Whether responding to a hazardous materials incident, medical emergency or a structure fire, fire fighters take an oath to save others and in doing so often risk their own lives. Since the 1960s the fire service has gradually expanded its mission and scope of service most notably to include emergency medicine in the 1960-70s.1 This was then followed by hazardous materials response in the 1980s.2 Technical rescue came to fruition as a discipline in the 1990s, while weapons of mass destruction and homeland security consequence management added additional mission sets in the 1990s and post 9/11.3

While the fire service has a tradition of expanding its mission to meet the needs of the community, the change has been more reactive than proactive and slow to evolve. The clearest example of this is the September 11th and anthrax attacks of 2001. The fire service was woefully unprepared for these events. The fire service tends to be bound by tradition which can weigh down progress and must adapt its mission to the threats and needs of this rapidly changing, more interconnected world. The fire service will have to be more forward leaning in developing its capabilities if it wants to prepare effectively for future threats and respond to atypical emergencies. Over the past several years, the fire service has not adapted its mission or its capabilities to prepare, train, and respond effectively to perhaps the two most imminent, nonconforming threats facing communities across America: the active shooter and fire as a weapon.

Over the past several years, there have been numerous national and international incidents that have required a combined law enforcement, fire, and EMS response.4 These tragic events necessitated operational personnel to perform novel tactics to mitigate threats that required a multidisciplinary response. International terrorist organizations and criminals have utilized fire and firearms to evoke fear in communities, regions and nations.5 Intelligence reporting has indicated that these types of complex attacks are being considered by terrorist organizations, and as a whole, the emergency response community is not prepared to handle these events effectively.6

[Figure omitted. See PDF.]

Figure 1. Trend Line shows increase in number of Active Shooter Incidents from 2000-20127

Both active shooter and fire-as-a-weapon incidents require combined fire, EMS, and law enforcement response. Preparing for these types of emergencies will require a fundamental shift in mission space for these aforementioned agencies. Traditional single agency "stove piped" responses will not be effective in saving lives and property as pointed out by Douglas Weeks.

The utilization of conventional means and methods against an unconventional threat is akin to putting a square peg in a round hole; although it might work in some circumstances, it is rarely a very good fit. This square-peg, round-hole idea exists because conventional practices were never developed with the flexibility, operational scope, and complexity required to manage the threat of terrorism.8

If we do not integrate Fire/ EMS and law enforcement capabilities for these imminent threats, not only will civilian lives be lost, but first responders will suffer as well. Our fire service leaders have a duty to prepare and train for these events simply based on the threat; these events are possible in any community.

The Active Shooter

The mass killings in Aurora, Colorado (2012) and Newtown, Connecticut (2012) continue to bring to light the real risk and absolute horror of what both the law enforcement and Fire/EMS responders must be prepared to face. Events such as these have spawned federal initiatives and calls for action to control lethal weapons and improve mental health resources. …

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