Mass casualty shootings such as at Isla Vista, Santa Barbara, Sandy Hook Elementary, a Colorado movie theater and Columbine High School have prompted law enforcement and fire services, like those in and around Pleasanton, to train together in order to prepare for an active shooter incident.
Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, in which 13 people were killed, more than 250 people have been killed in an active shooter incident, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
"Post-Columbine, we've noticed these deaths were all preventable," said Lt. Mike Elerick of Pleasanton Police Department's special operations unit.
Elerick added that when these types of mass casualties happen, it's emergency medical services (EMS) that have the training to help wounded victims. Due to fire services policy, EMS is required to stage away from the active shooter scene, known as the "hot zone," until law enforcement has deemed the scene safe.
"If we can get firefighters inside with police, the more lives can be saved," Elerick said.
In order to be better prepared for an active shooter incident, Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore police departments, as well as Livermore-Pleasanton firefighters joined together and went through a day-long active shooter/fire concepts training on July 28 at Amador Valley High School.
In the morning they learned about different tactics that can be used in an active shooter situation, and in the afternoon they were able to put these tactics to the test as they went through scenarios in a school setting -- which is where 34% of active shooter incidents occur, according to an FBI study.
Officers and firefighters were able to establish common tactics, communication capabilities and terminology to have an effective operation procedure.
With this new operation response, both police and fire services will enter the scene together as opposed to police securing the scene and then allowing EMS to enter.
Last week's first scenario started off with a loud bang and some gunshots, followed by screaming and calls for help.
"He's got a gun! Help! He's shooting," yelled one of the role players.
No more than five seconds later, a team of police officers run into the school asking where the suspect went and what he looks like.
Police officers already on-scene that came across a wounded victim had to communicate to the Command Post where the victim was located and what kind of injury he/she had. However, officers could not help the victim, but only leave the victim in place to wait for the firefighters.
"It's the police officer's job to stop the shooter. If they spend time helping a victim, they're giving more time to the shooter to hurt even more victims," said Elerick, adding that this type of mentality is most difficult for officers that have children.
Soon after, a group of four to five firefighters entered the scene surrounded by a group of police officers with their rifle or handgun in position to shoot.
As the scenario went on, one by one, officers accompanied firefighters into the "hot zone" to find wounded victims, played by high school students and Police Explorers (teenagers interested in a career in law enforcement), and give them the proper medical assistance needed.
After officers escorted the firefighters and victims out of the shooting area, they go back to finding and stopping the shooter.
Once the scenario finished, officers and firefighters gathered together to receive critiques from the force operation instructors.
Pleasanton Sgt. Mike Collins commented on how well officers used their weapons and the communication between the Command Post and teams.
After a short break, they went through another scenario -- for a total of three different types of active shooter situations.
Pleasanton police officer Matt Kroutil said the training went well and really put things into perspective as he went through each real-life scenario.
"By implementing the fire services, it made it more real," he said, adding that he learned how slowing down and taking things step-by-step actually made the operation go by smoother and faster.
Last week's training was the second of four active shooter trainings planned this year for Tri-Valley agencies.
According to Elerick, it was LPFD's assistant chief Joe Rodondi who contacted Pleasanton police to see if they were interested in developing a joint training with neighboring agencies such as Dublin and Livermore police. If there was ever an active shooter incident, all four agencies would respond to the scene.
"It's so much better to do it now than the first time it happens," Elerick said.
Allyson Camillucci, an incoming junior at Amador Valley High School and Pleasanton Police Explorer, said she thinks it's great that officers and firefighters are going through an active shooter training.
"I just feel safer knowing they're already trained for these types of situations," she added.
Active shooter statistics
The FBI has conducted many academic studies on active shooting incidents from 2001-2010 and has come up with the following findings.
In a study of 84 active shooter incidents, most incidents occur in a small- or medium-sized community where police departments are limited by budget constraints and small work forces.
According to FBI statistics, 37% happen at a business, 34% school, 17% public venue and 12% other locations.
The average active shooter incident lasts 12 minutes -- 37% last less than 5 minutes, 43% are over before police arrive and 57% are still happening when police arrive.
When it comes to the shooter, FBI studies have found that the culprit is almost always a single-shooter (98%) and is a male (97%).
In addition, 40% of active shooters commit suicide, 10% stop shooting and walk away, and 20% go to another location.