Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Active Shooter.

Posted on | November 9, 2018 | 4 Comments

Active shooter days are hard for me.  I know they’re hard for everybody.  I know that a lot of people take comfort in that saying from Mister Rogers:

Image result for mr rogers meme, look for the helpers

The problem is that I am one of the helpers.  And here’s the cold hard truth, America: the helpers aren’t going to make it in time.  Between 2000 and 2013 the FBI reported there were 160 active shooter situations, the majority of which ended quickly. “In 63 incidents where the duration of the incident could be ascertained, 44 (69.8%) of 63 incidents ended in 5 minutes or less, with 23 ending in 2 minutes or less.”

The 2016-17 report from the FBI didn’t include time data.  Maybe because it was too hard to ascertain.  Maybe because, in addition to the increasing frequency of shootings, the limited amount of time for public safety to respond was too grim to face.  The time for a police response to any 911 call varies a lot depending on which study you’re reading and where you live but it hovers around 7-12 minutes.  The time to get an ambulance on scene is generally the same or longer.  Which means the shooting is over long before help arrives; all that’s left is the dying.

Of course, having law enforcement arrive quickly (or paid security on scene, for that matter) isn’t a guarantee of anything; they get shot and killed, too.  Dead cops can’t save anyone.  And when EMS arrives, they aren’t able to enter the scene until police know the shooter is down or has left.  Because dead medics can’t save anyone either.  In desperation, FEMA, the FBI, and Homeland Security are changing this element of response—now, police are urged to enter a shooting scene immediately, even if they’re alone.  When EMS arrives, they are now escorted into active scenes by law enforcement.  I’m not sure how many citizens can be saved if EMS ends up treating the cops who are shot escorting them into the building.  But, really, EMS’ ability to save anyone at an active shooter scene is limited.

EMS is trained to apply bleeding control, tourniquets, chests seals, and decompress a possible pneumothorax before moving on with police to the next area in search of more victims.  That’s right—there won’t be any immediate extrication from the scene until law enforcement and EMS has cleared the building or area.  You get a tourniquet and then we leave you where you are.  I feel sick imagining how this will play out in real life.  What do I do when a bloody citizen is clinging to my leg, begging me not to leave them?  I asked this question in a training session and the federal law enforcement personnel teaching the course told me to kick them down if I needed to, but we keep moving.  That’s the reality of rescue in an active shooter scene.  How do you like that, Mister Rogers?

Of course, bleeding control measures are life-saving but if you have massive internal bleeding or head trauma or an acute lung injury, then what you really need is a rapid transport to a hospital and a surgeon.  There’s nothing else that will save you.  And according to the surgeons that treat gun shot wounds everyday, even a surgeon isn’t a guarantee.  That’s why shooting victims die in such large numbers.

Maybe you’re thinking that concern about these desperate measures is really just cowardice.  That cops and EMS signed up to give up their lives for citizens in need and if they don’t like it, then they should quit.  But in my small town, the majority of public safety personnel don’t just work here, they live here, too.  I have 4 children in 4 different area schools.  My co-workers have kids in schools all over the district; we all have family members working in community businesses, attending local churches, filling the stands at sporting events, dancing in the park during concerts. Every single one of us would rush in, would do anything, would give it all up if we knew we could stop the killing of our friends and families and loved ones.  But our bodies, our lives, won’t stop the shootings from happening again and again and again.

Active shooter days are hard because I have to remind my kids that when the shooting starts, they need to move.  They need to move and keep moving, even if they or their friends are injured.  Their only chance of survival to is to move away from the gunfire and if they are injured their best chance for quick medical treatment is if they are off the active scene.  I’m not going to be able to help them.  I am not going to make it there in time.

A couple years ago, I was at work when we were notified that there was credible evidence of an active shooter threat at a local high school.  Two of my kids were in that high school that day.  I was working on the ambulance that is the responding unit for that high school.  All of the public safety agencies were in high gear—investigators tracking the threat, tactical teams getting in place, the school on lockdown.  EMS headquarters was preparing to load the ambulances with extra supplies for multiple patients.  Public safety was doing everything they could do to mitigate the danger.  And as I sat in the front seat of my ambulance, waiting to get a call for an active shooter at the school where my kids were locked into their classroom, I knew there was still nothing I could do.  They were on their own.  The helpers aren’t going to beat the bullets to the scene.  So active shooter days are hard for me.

I’m not comforted by the thought of arming more and more citizens.  Nothing about adding to the plethora of guns lets me sleep easy at night.  Because I believe the research from the CDC—-at the least the research that the government allows researchers to do.

I’m not comforted by the new policies of throwing first responders at shooters in the hopes that a human sacrifice can stop the shooting spree.  Bodies do not seem to be a reasonable alternative to effective gun control legislation.

I can’t comfort myself by telling myself that these occurrences are rare.  Because they really aren’t anymore.  The afternoon of the shooting in Thousand Oaks, I received an automated email from my kids’ school saying they had a rumor of a gun on campus and were investigating it thoroughly.  After the Thousand Oaks shooting, it was discovered that some of those present at the Borderline Bar and Grill had been at the Las Vegas shooting last year, the deadliest mass shooting in US history.  This is what it’s come to in America—-you might survive one mass shooting, but you may not survive when you’re caught up in the next one.  The next one, Mister Rogers.

I’m really uncomfortable with a lobbyist group (the NRA, of course) telling the doctors that treat gun shot victims of all kinds that their opinions on gun control are unwelcome.  If anyone gets to have an opinion on gun violence, it’s the doctors left to treat the damage inflicted by the bullets.

So instead I spent the day doing what I usually do on active shooter days.  I wandered through my life putting things in order.  After I dropped kids at school I did my workout and ran my errands, picking up the items I needed to disguise leftovers into a new dinner.  I returned a shirt that had been patiently waiting in the backseat of the van for weeks to be returned.  I came home and paid bills and balanced the checkbook.  I hooked up the frost-free hose for the RV and weather-proofed the water spigot so I don’t lose water during the upcoming freeze.  I confirmed Big’s medical appointment and called the insurance company to dispute a charge for Little’s last doctor’s visit.  I took the crates that had been sitting on the deck for weeks and moved them to the barn.  I washed my sheets and towels and aligned my comforter so that each side that hung off the edge of the bed was perfectly even.  I refilled the birdfeeders and put out fresh suet.  I put on the cattens’ flea and tick medicine.  I went back to the school and dropped off Middle’s lunch because he forgot it.  And I just moved along checking off each little item because focusing on the things I can get done takes my mind off the things I can’t control.  Apparently I am not the only person that this works for—accomplishing mico-goals releases dopamine in the brain.  So that by the end of the day I can pick up my kids from practice, drive them to work, kiss them goodnight, then head in to class to teach a new generation of EMS providers, without picturing my loved ones bleeding out in a street or hallway waiting for help.  It keeps me sane, but it doesn’t keep them safe.

What would Mr. Rogers say to this advancing threat?  I guess we won’t ever know because Mister Rogers died in 2003.  Fifteen years before a gunman killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue in his Pittsburgh neighborhood.  An active shooter in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood.  I’m glad he died before that happened.  Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.  It’s a peace increasingly hard to find for the rest of us.

 

 

Comments

4 Responses to “Active Shooter.”

  1. Tanya Lam
    November 9th, 2018 @ 11:38 pm

    This is brilliant

  2. Ellen
    November 10th, 2018 @ 4:49 am

    An eloquent, important, sobering essay. Please submit this to national publications.

  3. Jill Hallenbeck
    November 10th, 2018 @ 9:09 am

    grim. Thank you for giving voice to my feelings. We all need to be the “helpers”… As one mom of a Thousand Oaks victim cried “I don’t need any more prayers; I need gun control.” How many moms have to cry this at news reporters whose questions to those in authority might be addressed with a “That’s a stupid question and you are stupid” retort?

  4. Lisa
    November 10th, 2018 @ 11:41 am

    Powerful stuff. Couldn’t agree more.

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