Something has been bothering me for a while now – something that involves stories that emerged following the response to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Based on reports of the school resource officer’s actions at MSD it appears response protocols weren’t followed.
Additionally, Emergency Medical Services responders were allegedly ordered to ‘stand down’ and weren’t allowed to render medical aid to wounded victims.
Both actions gave me serious pause to wonder why.
Was nothing learned from Columbine?
Controversies surrounded the response at Columbine. Lessons learned from that massacre prompted changes in response protocols nationwide to immediately engage and neutralize active shooters.
An iconic story from the Columbine massacre was that of Patrick Ireland:
Prior to Patrick’s dramatic rescue, though, multiple victims outside the school on the ground below the library had already been rescued by EMTs.
The following account of Anne Marie’s rescue is reprinted from Emergency Medical Services Magazine (digital copies are not available), Vol. 28, Issue 10, October, 1999. The person telling this abbreviated story is John Aylward, Lieutenant at Littleton Fire Rescue.
“As I looked at this 17-year-old girl, I couldn’t see any wounds, but I noticed blood on her shirt and she was pale.
I wasn’t even sure she was alive until, as I got close to her, she moved her hand, looked at me and said, ‘Help me.’
I couldn’t find a peripheral pulse.
As I got her on the cot, I turned around to see where my partner was and saw him run to the back of Rescue 13 with his patient. He looked over at me, and that’s when the shooting started.
I was being pelted by broken glass. That’s when I noticed a police officer right next to Rescue 13 open up with his gun, and I realized the police officers behind me were also shooting over my head.”
As Rescue 11 headed for Swedish Hospital, Aylward started a large-bore IV.
“I instructed Ryan to keep talking to her so I could assess breath sounds, but I really couldn’t hear anything because her respiratory effort was so weak at that point.
As we started to expose the wounds, I realized she had another entrance wound in her back, and she told me she couldn’t feel her legs.”
It bears repeating that these EMTs did their jobs that day while under fire.
John’s narrative of my daughter’s rescue tells me two things:
- Anne Marie came within minutes, if not seconds, of not making it if not for John’s heroic efforts to save her.
- That John and his crew were able to rescue so many victims while under fire is a story that needs to be told.
John and members of his crew were honored for their heroism by being presented with Gold Honor Awards. They are all reticent to talk about it. John downplayed the award, saying, “This is what we do.”
That sentiment fits with stories presented in this article from NPR: The Other Victims: First Responders to Violent Disasters Often Suffer Alone.
The title alone, that first responders often suffer alone, is indicative of something that most folks aren’t aware of – that many of these ‘Humble Heroes’ have PTSD.
PTSD is a very real danger and can cause issues for a family, cause trouble at work or increase the risk of suicide. Many fire fighters think it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, but it’s okay to talk about your struggles.
They work every day in spite of their PTSD. Often times their families live with their PTSD, too.
So, before any of us sit in judgment or condemnation of any first responders, MSD included, please consider that they continue to do what they do even with the trauma they experience. That is why they are deserving of our respect and our gratitude.
And, just so everyone knows, lessons learned from the response to MSD, along with Columbine, are now considered a ‘new benchmark for EMS active shooter response’.
My two cents.
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