ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Paramedics are too often kept out of active crime scenes, even when patients need medical help, because some of those scenes are just too volatile. But officials are hoping to change that, and they’re using a new pilot program to make their case.
“We’re sort of becoming a model that other agencies could potentially use to effect rescues in this environment,” said Lt. Zach Lardy with Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue.
When there’s a school or workplace shooting, for example, law enforcement and paramedics have two different jobs.
“Law enforcement is, again, to eliminate or contain the threat,” Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Capt. Edward Mims said. “Paramedics are coming in to render medical aid.”
However, when there’s an active shooter still on scene, paramedics are kept out until the scene is safe.
“We’re standing back while people are dying, especially where children are dying, that’s really hard to swallow,” Lardy told KRQE News 13.
The new program, the first of its kind in New Mexico, allows both teams to go in at once. For six weeks, BCSO is training with the Bernalillo County Fire Department. Paramedics flank deputies as they enter a mock active-shooter scene. Deputies work to contain the threat while medical staff treat the injured people.
It’s a different way of thinking for both teams.
“The thought of rapidly having to treat and extract patients and then having to leave a patient behind while you examine further patients is kind of a departure of what we normally do,” Battalion Chief Brian Rose said. “We don’t ever usually leave a patient, but sometimes in these situations, you have to leave one that’s stabilized to save many more.”
First responders saw the need at the Emcore office shooting in July 2010.
Robert Reza shot six people, killing two of them. Law enforcement ran into the business while paramedics initially had to stay out, not knowing that the gunman killed himself and not knowing whether there was a second suspect still on the loose inside.
“It’s frustrating,” Lardy said. “We’re highly trained to do a specific job and we want to get in there and help.”
The conversations to cross-train crews ramped up after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in December 2012. Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six adults.
With the new training, officials hope BCSO deputies will be able stop the threat of violence in a situation and protect Bernalillo County paramedics – all at the same time – even if a shooter is still on the loose.
“We’re going to put them in body armor, we’re going to teach them how to move around corners and negotiate inside buildings,” Capt. Mims said.
State Sen. Michael Padilla first introduced a bill at the Legislature to get money for the pilot program.
“I was able to secure $50,000, and it’s been amended into the state budget,” Padilla said. “Today we’re trying to make sure it gets to Bernalillo County so we can massively expand this pilot across the state.”
Bernalillo County deputies and paramedics say they are on the cutting edge of a program they expect to take off across the country.
“Without this training we would sort of be held back and unable to get in and make access to these patients in a timely fashion and potentially save their lives,” Lardy said.