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Remaining prepared

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ACTIVE SHOOTER SCENARIO: Huntington police and fire departments work together to extract a victim in an active shooter scenario at Huntington University on Aug. 16.
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EMERGENCY SCENARIO: First responders from the Huntington City Fire Department provide medical attention to a dummy victim during an active shooter training at Huntington University on Aug. 16.
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ACTIVE SHOOTER SCENARIO: Sheriff Netwon of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Office sweeps the room during an active shooter scenario on Aug. 16. He is followed closely by the Huntington City Fire Department in a collaboration to provide faster medical attention to victims.

by James Ehle - jehle@chronicle-tribune.com

Police officers and firefighters in Huntington county underwent 16-hours of active shooter training on Thursday and Friday in an effort to rethink their approach to high-threat scenarios.

Life-sized dummies spotted with fake blood served as victims and an audio track of screams added to the realism in the dim hallways of Huntington University’s union building.

Officers entered the building weapons-first before giving the “all-clear” to EMS so the medical team could assist victims. The goal to save lives is the same, but the collaboration between police and fire departments is a new effort to get to victims in a more time-effective manner.

“When we look back at events like Columbine it was two-and-a-half hours until EMS got inside and got their hands on patients,” said Mark Litwinko, Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) trauma rescue task force instructor. “When you figure that a patient can bleed out from a lower extremity injury in three to five minutes it is imperative that we get in as fast as we can to get to our victims.”

Sheriff Chris Newton of the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department says he and other officers have undergone active shooter trainings since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, but the Rescue Task Force Concept is the first training of its kind for Huntington first responders.

“We’ve never done this type of training, and even after 20 years you’d think we’d know what we were doing,” said Newton. “We’re all learning.”

In a classroom setting, the first responders were trained on making tourniquets and wound-packing, both of which are methods to suppress blood flow from a wound. Litwinko put them to the test, allowing them to utilize what they learned in a live scenario.

“We’re just integrating what we both do really well,” Litwinko said. “So if we can come together and do it jointly then we’re going to see a positive outcome for our victim survivability.”

The training comes on the heels of two recent mass shootings which took place less than 24 hours apart on opposite sides of the country, in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Newton says they want to be prepared to act within our community because it could happen anywhere.

“In the event something tragic would happen,” Newton said. “Any of these guys can say ‘let’s go’ because we know what to do.”

The training was provided through a grant from IDHS which allowed the Huntington police and fire departments to set up the session with Litwinko. Litwinko says this is the eighth training he’s instructed since the beginning of the year. He’s instructed more than 50 different agencies from South Bend all the way down to southern Indiana, and many places in between.

“We’re a public safety team and we come together as that team and that giant family and we’re here to help out each other and help our victims,” Litwinko said. “That’s where these trainings help us to learn our roles better.”

Sheriff Netwon plans to participate in more trainings like this in the future with his officers. He hopes to practice on a larger scale active shooter event with multiple patients where evaluators follow the teams around. The grades from evaluations can be used to better the response.

“So the next time you run that next scenario, you learn to fix it,” Newton said.