By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Last week while Bowling Green schools were closed for spring break, teams of police officers clad in protective vests and carrying AR-15 air soft training rifles trained in their hallways.
By this week, all of the city’s police officers will have gone through rescue task force training. The point of the practice is to prepare police and EMS to work together to get medical help to victims of mass shootings as quickly as possible.
“Time is so critical,” Bowling Green Police Chief Tony Hetrick said.
On Friday afternoon, another team of police officers wrapped up their active shooter drill at Crim Elementary School. While they train annually for active shooters, this was the first time that police and firefighters/paramedics trained together.
Police trained to go into the “hot zone,” to confront the shooters, and create an area in the nearby “warm zone” for EMS to take care of those injured.
“Our entire role in all of this is to train the police officers to make a safe area,” so medical treatment doesn’t have to wait until the entire scene is cleared of risks, Bowling Green Fire Chief Bill Moorman said.
“Our paramedics are escorted in to treat in the building, and not wait for patients to be brought out to us,” Moorman said. “It’s getting our people into the building faster than normal.”
The rescue task force responses to mass shootings do not require EMS personnel to carry firearms.
“We are the firefighters’ protection for tactical emergency medical services,” explained Bowling Green Police Deputy Chief Justin White as he stood outside Crim Elementary.
The rescue task force training included every police officer and firefighter.
“All our officers are getting trained this week,” Hetrick said.
“Every single one will go through it,” Moorman said.
Each of the training sessions was held in Crim Elementary, though Hetrick said his officers are familiar with every school building in the city.
The rescue task force training had been months in the making – long before the shooting in Parkland, Florida. But the timing proved perfect with concerns heightened after 17 students and teachers were killed by the Parkland shooter.
“Anxiety is through the roof,” Hetrick said in the days following the Florida school shooting.
Immediately after the Parkland school shooting, Bowling Green Police Division increased its foot patrols near local schools and drive-throughs of school parking lots.
“We have stepped that up,” Hetrick said during the recent school safety forum held by the school district at the county library.
Though the police division does not have enough officers to station them at the schools, Hetrick said the response time averages one to two minutes.
The officers are well-equipped, train for active shooter responses, and are familiar with all the school buildings, Hetrick said.
Prior to the Columbine school shooting, many police departments waited outside schools during active shooting incidents. Bowling Green police have a policy of “solo engagement,” meaning the first officer on the scene goes in immediately, by himself if necessary.
“This is on our minds all the time – what we train for and what we’re equipped for,” Hetrick said.
Every officer is equipped with an AR-15 rifle, assault vests and medical kids.
“You enter, you find the threat, you neutralize the threat,” the chief said during a recent meeting of the Citizens Academy at the police station. “You can’t let people be slaughtered if you have a means to stop it.”
Some school districts are considering allowing teachers to be armed. And for districts without a nearby police presence, that might make sense, Hetrick said.
“I don’t necessarily have a problem with the concept,” if law enforcement is far away, the chief said. “We have a police force that is equipped to handle it.”
And teachers are trained to educate, he added. “That’s not what they signed on for,” Hetrick said.
Last week’s rescue task force training was led by three Bowling Green firefighters, who serve on Wood County’s special response team – Brad Stott, Brandon Westerman and Britton Alexander.