Report: Paramedics repeatedly denied entry after Fla. high school shooting
Deputy Chief Michael McNally asked six times for permission to send in specialized teams of police officers and paramedics
By Nicholas Nehamas
PARKLAND, Fla. — During the chaos of the Parkland school shooting, paramedics from Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department were desperate to go inside the building where students were wounded and dying.
Michael McNally, deputy chief for Coral Springs fire-rescue, asked six times for permission to send in specialized teams of police officers and paramedics, according to an incident report he filed after the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead.
But every time McNally asked to deploy the two Rescue Task Force teams — each made up of three paramedics and three to four law enforcement officers — the Broward Sheriff's Office captain in charge of the scene, Jan Jordan, said no.
"The [BSO] incident commander advised me, 'She would have to check,' " McNally wrote in the report released Thursday by Coral Springs. "After several minutes, I requested once again the need to deploy RTF elements into the scene to ... initiate treatment as soon as possible. Once again, the incident commander expressed that she 'would have to check before approving this request.' "
Even after the shooter had been arrested, the answer remained the same.
It's not known whether paramedics, who arrived at Stoneman Douglas within minutes of the shooting, could have saved lives. Thirty-four people had been shot inside the school's freshman building. Gunshot wound victims can bleed out quickly, meaning fast action is necessary. The special RTF teams allow paramedics to treat victims under the protection of police officers in situations where a shooter has been pinned down or fled but has not necessarily been captured.
SWAT medics went in instead, although it's not clear exactly how many or when.
The RTFs were denied entry, a command decision first reported by Fox News, because authorities weren't sure where shooter Nikolas Cruz was and didn't want to put the paramedics in danger. At one point, commanders were relying on school security footage that showed Cruz still in the freshman building. But the footage was — unknown to them — running on a 20-minute delay. Cruz had actually fled roughly six minutes after opening fire at 2:21 p.m.
"I’m not saying the [RTFs] would have made a difference and I’m not saying they wouldn’t have made a difference, but it would have been more medics and more hands helping out," Coral Springs Fire Chief Frank Babinec said in an interview Thursday.
Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokeswoman for BSO, said in an email Thursday evening that medics are only sent in "after it has been confirmed the threat is mitigated."
The video confusion was one of many mistakes that hampered law enforcement's response to the worst school shooting in Florida history.
Instead of having extra paramedics in the building, law enforcement officers brought injured victims — sometimes on golf carts — to a medical staging area hastily assembled nearby. Then they were sent to hospitals. Fifteen of the 17 mortally wounded victims died at the school. Another 17 people survived their injuries.
In his report, McNally, who had been ordered to act as a liaison between Coral Springs fire command and BSO, also claimed BSO's command post was severely dysfunctional. Communication was difficult, McNally said, because he often could not locate Jordan, BSO's district commander for Parkland.
"The command post was inundated with too many people and made it impossible to establish and function," McNally wrote, echoing criticisms of the disorganization and lack of a unified command structure that plagued BSO's response to a deadly shooting at the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last year.
At least three additional fire-rescue incident reports released Thursday by Coral Springs confirmed that BSO had denied requests to send in the rescue teams. Coral Springs provides fire service in the city of Parkland. BSO provides law enforcement.
In his report, McNally acknowledged that RTF teams may not have helped in the end — but he said Jordan couldn't have realized that when she repeatedly denied his requests.
"Later, it was determined that the RTF element may not have aided in any additional care to patients," McNally wrote. "However, this information was not known at the time of the requests."
BSO Sheriff Scott Israel has faced criticism for his leadership since the shooting. He handpicked Jordan, a former colleague from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, to head the relatively trouble-free Parkland district.
McNally and Jordan could not be reached Thursday evening.
As criticism of the response to the Parkland massacre has intensified, Coral Springs and BSO have pointed fingers at each other. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the overall law enforcement performance.
The decision by Jordan to keep the paramedics sidelined is not the only criticism of her that day. At least four BSO deputies were on campus as Cruz was still firing, but they said they were unable to figure out where the shooting was happening, even as an unarmed school security guard and Coral Springs police officers rushed toward the building. When Jordan arrived on scene, her only recorded command was for deputies to form a perimeter around the school, although BSO says that's because her radio failed as the county's communications system overloaded.
Medical air rescue was also denied because Cruz, who would be arrested off campus more than an hour after the shooting began, had not yet been captured.
After Cruz's arrest off campus at 3:40 p.m. — when it would have been safe for RTFs to operate — McNally said he again asked Jordan to deploy the special teams. Again, she refused.
Babinec, the Coral Springs chief, said by that time all patients had been treated so there would have been nothing for the teams to do.
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