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NM first responders train for active shooter incidents

Farmington police, firefighters and paramedics from San Juan Regional Medical Center conducted joint training under their new multi-agency policy

By Joshua Kellogg
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON, N.M. — Blanks fired by a shotgun could be heard echoing through an empty hangar Wednesday at the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington as first responders participated in their annual active shooter training.

In recent years, the focus of the training has moved beyond police eliminating the threat to ensuring firefighters and paramedics have a quick response to those injured, even as a shooter could still be active at the scene.

Wednesday was the first of three days in the coming weeks for Farmington police, firefighters and paramedics from San Juan Regional Medical Center to conduct joint training, according to Farmington police Capt. Kyle Dowdy.

Dowdy said the training has been in development for months and was not in response to last week's school shooting in Parkland, Flordia.

The participants attended a briefing by Farmington police at their building on Municipal Drive before heading to the training at the airport.

In the last 18 to 24 months, the agencies have devised a new multiagency policy and revisions to the policy regarding active shooters, according to Acting Fire Chief David Burke. Police Chief Steve Hebbe said the integration of emergency medical services and firefighters into the training has been a priority.

"We've created a better partnership there I think will serve the community well if we ever had any tragedy that we had to respond to," Hebbe said.

Dowdy described an active shooter as a suspect who continues to fire a weapon when police arrive on the scene.

During the training, the participants run through three scenarios, including an active shooter inside a school and a workplace.

Police made entry to the hangar in an effort to neutralize the suspect. As officers swept the structure and assessed the injured, a team of paramedics and firefighters guarded by officers was escorted into the building.

"They are going into these building knowing full well that the shooter is still on the loose," Dowdy said. "Any time, he could double back to the area."

Paramedics and firefighters tried to retrieve the mock victims and extract them to a casualty collection point. At that location, fire and medics tended to them and made decisions about what would happen next, Dowdy said.

"We need to get them into the hands of the medical experts as quickly as possible," Dowdy said.

Burke echoed the statement, stating that is the biggest factor in saving lives.

"That's been the underlying factor of us working together," Burke said. "The quicker we can get the injured out of the scenario into definitive care, the greater the survivability and lesser the ongoing injuries are."

Each training session gives those participants something new to learn about the tactics deployed by police, authorities say. New technical terms, movement components or staging techniques picked up during training could lead the agencies to update their policies.

The topic of the Aztec High School shooting on Dec. 7 when 17-year-old students Casey J. Marquez and Francisco "Paco" Fernandez were killed was brought up during the training. Dowdy believes the quick response from the Aztec Police Department is what prevented the tragic situation from becoming worse.

"They were there so quick, it helped the whole situation, and the killing stopped," Dowdy said.

That has prompted Farmington police to research and evaluate how to funnel resources to handle certain problems once a shooter is down. That includes reunification of students with parents, as well as informing officers about resources available to those affected by the incident.

Dowdy said future training exercises could involve scenarios inspired by the response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Flordia, on June 12, 2016, when 49 people died and dozens were injured.

During that shooting, Dowdy said first responders had to adjust as the situation changed from an active-shooter scenario to a hostage situation as the suspect barricaded himself and continued to fire while those injured remained inside.

It's been a goal to offer active-shooter training to people in the Four Corners region, Hebbe said.

Farmington police were giving training to private business owners on Dec. 7 when the Aztec High School shooting occurred.

Hebbe said Farmington police are deploying safety teams to schools, businesses and government agencies in the region to give people the tools to survive.

Both Dowdy and Hebbe gave credit to firefighters and paramedics for participating in the training and adjusting their policies to adapt to new scenarios.

"Not everyone across the country is interested in partnering up with police and going into still-hot zones to try and save people," Hebbe said. "They do here, and I'm proud of them."

Copyright 2018 The Daily Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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