As concerns about active shooter violence continue to grow, Santa Clara County ramped up its training Wednesday, adding a new dimension to its protocol: body armor for firefighters and emergency medical personnel so those agencies can respond sooner.
Armed law enforcement officers, of course, remain the first line of defense in the so-called "warm zone" during active shooter situations, county officials say. The difference now is firefighter paramedics and medical technicians also will enter the "warm zone" wearing bulletproof vests and helmets.
"We've learned a lot of lessons from the active shooters that we've seen throughout the county, and we want to be well prepared here," said county Sheriff Laurie Smith.
The new role is a significant change from firefighters' past protocol, which was to stay on the fringe and wait until the area is secure.
"Certainly there's been a lot of concern, which is exactly why we're doing the training," said Ken Kehmna, Santa Clara County fire chief. "We want to make sure everybody is comfortable working in that environment. So there's no hesitation in the moment of need."
The idea is to get injured people treated sooner and get them transported to a hospital, if necessary, said Palo Alto police Chief Dennis Burns.
Eric Nickel, president of the Fire Chiefs Association, believes the type of response being rehearsed Wednesday speaks to a general trust that all public safety personnel are prepared for such situations.
"I think the community expects that both their public safety arms, police and fire, as well as EMS work closely together," Nickel said. "And this protocol brought us all together as one collaborative group."
The sheriff's office and other agencies plan to conduct more joint response training drills for active shooter response. The new procedures and equipment for firefighters and medical technicians have yet to be used in a real-life situation.