ALGONQUIN – Every time there is an active violence situation – such as the Columbine High School massacre, the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting or Northern Illinois University shooting – first responders adapt policies to improve how they respond.
“It’s no secret that these large-scale incidents have been occurring more and more over the last 10 years, and they aren’t isolated to big cities,” said Matt Berg, Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District captain of training and safety.
To be proactive in training for such situations, about 150 members of the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District and the Algonquin and Lake in the Hills police departments participated in rescue task force training throughout the past week, Berg said.
It was the first time the three agencies from bordering communities had trained together on such a large scale, Berg said.
The training sessions took place over three days at the former Duralife building in Algonquin, and included classroom activities as well as practical training on equipment use, moving through the building where a threat has been located and carrying wounded victims to safety, Berg said. Owners donated the use of the building for training, he said.
The relatively new technique first responders practiced is called rapid deployment, Lake in the Hills police Sgt. Lloyd Howen said. In rapid deployment, small groups of police officers and firefighters will enter an active violence scene, such as a school shooting, before the scene has been completely secured, Howen said.
“Typically a fire department would stage, wait a bit away from the scene, until police were able to secure it and make it 100 percent safe for firefighter personnel,” Howen said. “Well, people are dying. People that can survive something like that, they need medical care right away.”
Howen, along with Berg, Lake in the Hills police Sgt. Michael Boyce and Algonquin police Officer Tim Wilkin, were certified in rescue task force training by the Illinois Tactical Officers Association and have been planning for the past week’s training for about a year.
“Our whole mission of the rescue task force is to save as many lives as possible and get medical treatment to innocent victims as quickly as we can,” Howen said.
Typically, a rescue task force includes about two police officers and two firefighter/paramedics entering an active violence scene together, organizers said. Police officers provide security while paramedics take care of the injured.
“Together we’re so much more effective than when we work independently,” Wilkin said.
But working in groups requires the agencies to share their language and expertise with each other, which is where the practices come in handy, organizers said.
Doing this also requires new equipment for all departments.
Berg said the fire department received a grant to help buy four ballistic vests and helmets for firefighters. Police invested in medical equipment, Howen and Wilkin said, including portable transport units to carry wounded people from a scene.
The three departments hope to do this type of training at least once a year, organizers said.
“I just want the people of our community to know that they’re police departments and fire departments are working together to provide the best service that we can in the most professional manner,” Howen said. “And when the critical incidents happen ... we’re going to be able to give the best service and save as many lives as possible.”