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Home > Topics > Mass Casualty Incidents

'Too many ambulances' overwhelmed Newtown responders

In the after-action report, having "more ambulances that needed and nobody was actually managing those functions" contributed to the on-scene chaos

Ken Dixon
Connecticut Post

HARTFORD, Conn. — Newtown Police dispatchers "were quickly overwhelmed" during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the immediate flood of parents and media made it even harder for first responders at the scene, Police Chief Michael K. Kehoe said Friday.

Kehoe, appearing before the governor's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission with Brookfield Police Chief Robin Montgomery, said that another problem in the early response to the school attack was the arrival of many ambulances from around the region.

"All the ambulances showed up, but they should have been managed better," Kehoe said, stressing that the active-shooter response "went well" because of training.

"But when it comes to incident command on a large scale like that, I would say that we, maybe, did not do as good as we could have," Kehoe said. "You had many more ambulances than needed and nobody was actually managing those functions, those ambulances."

Law enforcement officials were only some of the speakers to address the commission in a daylong session at the Legislative Office Building.

Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein told the group the charitable donations that flowed into Newtown following the December 2012 massacre created a kind of chaos as well, but not much outright fraud.

People from around the world donated more than $20 million, but there were few known charities prepared to handle the funds. New entities popped up to collect money for memorials, scholarships, victims' families and other causes. Rubenstein said that prompted his office and the state attorney general to issue public advisories, warning people to give responsibly.

Twenty first-graders and six adults in the school were murdered in a five-minute shooting rampage that ended with the suicide of Adam Lanza, 20, a former pupil there whose crimes are being reviewed to create a better statewide response mechanism.

Kehoe described the critical first hour of the response as "kind of chaotic" as police, fire and ambulances streamed into the town. "Our communications group became overwhelmed very quickly," he said, adding that only two people staffed the 911 call center that morning.

In all, there are 45 police officers in Newtown, with never more than three dispatchers on duty. "In this particular case, they were quickly overwhelmed; law enforcement was overwhelmed; fire services were overwhelmed; our EMS was overwhelmed," Kehoe said.

Montgomery, who was one of the on-scene commanders that day, said the initial response to the trauma of death and carnage in the school was inadequate for the entire town, from first responders to teachers, kids and parents.

"Quite frankly, I felt we didn't have a handle on it," he said. "There needs to be some entity that has oversight for the kinds of various trauma services needed by the folks in the community.

"So my pitch would be to look at somebody that's well-versed on the resources available in the particular region that could be called on in the event that there is another horrendous event that would be traumatic, to kind of have the same seat as the on-scene commander, but would be the person to have coordination of oversight of traumatic resources."

Kehoe and Montgomery, who was the Newtown chief's "shadow chief" that day, agreed that it would be advantageous to have established places for parents and family members to meet, farther away from a school incident. But they admitted that it would be hard to stop them from going directly to the scene.

Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, chairman of the commission, said the candid comments helped the commission.

"We all know that an after-action report is required and nothing ever goes perfectly," Jackson said. "Given the scope and scale of this, we know that everyone did not only their best, but better than their best. We know this in their hearts. But then to have them come back and say 'well, and here are a couple of things that you probably want to look at in terms of things that didn't go well,' that was a really powerful message."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Halley Nick Halley Tuesday, March 04, 2014 1:08:59 AM It struck me that everything went just Hunky Dory on that tragic day. It now appears there was chaos and many protocol failures. I wonder if Wolfgang Halbig's assertions on the Sandy Hook "event" has suddenly made "chaos theory" more fashionable than "steady state" in Connecticut ?
Russ Reina A Firetender Russ Reina A Firetender Tuesday, March 04, 2014 5:14:35 PM I didn't question anything about Sandy Hook when one day I caught an article on the completely inappropriate use of emergency resources. Don't get me started, Has there been an evaluation of the EMS response to the Sandy Hook incident on this site? Please let me know. I'd like to hear someone take a REAL good look at it.
Patrick Brown Patrick Brown Tuesday, March 04, 2014 5:44:03 PM The 2 points these "chiefs" make that really jump out at me... Kehoe reporting the active shooter response "went well"... and Chief Montgomery essentially defining the role of an incident commander... me thinks that sometimes commenting isn't always the best thing.....
Tuesday, March 04, 2014 5:54:25 PM I didn't question it either until I realized just how unreal it seems. I'm a little disappointed by this article. How are we supposed to believe that they were overwhelmed with ambulances when there were only two people brought to the hospital? I realize different parts of the country have different protocols but how did the police declare 26 people dead in a matter of minutes? I have worked EMS for 20 years, I have never seen anyone make a snap judgement of dead on scene with a child. I find it unfathomable that not one of these kids was transported even if it was hopeless. None of it adds up.
Brian Slumpff Brian Slumpff Tuesday, March 04, 2014 7:57:35 PM Why didn't any ambulances transport the children straight to the hospital. Not one child was taken out of the school to go to eh emergency room. They just laid there dead until the next morning? I don't understand it.
Russ Reina A Firetender Russ Reina A Firetender Wednesday, March 05, 2014 7:35:32 AM I don't know of a more qualified person to soberly review the circumstances of Sandy Hook. He asks a lot of questions that deserve to be asked. I have been amazed at how few medics have questioned the way that emergency was handled. Here's an interview:
Wednesday, March 05, 2014 11:22:34 AM Russ Reina A Firetender, I've heard Mr. Halbig's interview before. It is very interesting and worth considering by a lot of people. Sofia Smallstorm has also put together an interesting lecture on this and she consulted with EMS professionals in writing it.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014 11:24:40 AM Exactly, what the heck is going on with this situation? It doesn't make any sense at all. EMS1 puts out a ridiculous article like this and ignores the real questions.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014 11:41:54 AM You don't take dead people to the hospital.
Dana Arbeit Dana Arbeit Wednesday, March 05, 2014 12:45:40 PM The responders and their agencies are learning valuable lessons the hard way due to this incident. This was one of those "unimaginable" incidents that professionals in emergency services are paid to "imagine" and then plan and train to handle. The major problem is that such an incident involves three specialties: law enforcement, fire agencies and EMS units. Generally, each trains some for "the big one" but they seldom, if ever, train together on how to work together. Managers, i.e. fire chief, police chiefs and EMS leaders have to meet and agree on who runs what at an incident. I have been through lots of training when I was still on the job. Then I went to real incidents and most everybody followed their emotions and egos and not the training. However, every time they trained, they congratulated themselves on "great training"(even though it was just a "dog & pony show") and left, thinking they were prepared. I don't know what really happened at Sandy Hook or why people acted as they did but I believe the point of the article was to illustrate that the emergency responders have realized that they didn't handle it well and need to improve. That is a small step in the right direction.
Vince Warde Vince Warde Wednesday, March 05, 2014 3:58:27 PM Went well? Get real - China, where all private firearms are illegal and a totalitarian government rules - has armed guards at every school. They put them there to defend against knife attacks. Until we do the same - regardless of what is done on guns or mental health - the response to these incidents will never "go well".
Nick Halley Nick Halley Thursday, March 06, 2014 2:44:22 AM Vince Warde You miss the point Vince. The reason for "chaos" on that day is simply because the "actors" were none to good at following a complicated script. Tangled webs and deceit comes to mind. There is now overwhelming evidence that the SH event was a hoax, a gun-grab, a psy-op played the US people, designed to engender support for it's latest assault on basic constitutional rights. Several of the actors at Sandy Hook have now been identified and named and shamed. A real event does not require actors. And for the record, the school was closed in 2008/9 due to lead and asbestos contamination. An empty school was a pre-requisite for such a charade.
Thursday, March 06, 2014 4:42:58 PM frontierman_248 Who declares 26 people dead in a matter of minutes? Especially when most of them are children? I've worked EMS for a lot of years. I've worked resuscitations on kids in the field and in hospitals when there was no chance of survival. I can't believe anyone would be that quick to declare that many young kids as unsalvageable with NO effort at resuscitation.

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