On October 1, 2018, a shooter from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel opened fire upon a concert crowd fenced in a 15-acre open air lot. 1,100+ rounds were fired in a span of 10 minutes. 58 people died, excluding the shooter, 851 were injured of which 422 were gunshot wounds. 14 of those shot were off-duty firefighters and police officers enjoying the concert. Police and EMS personnel assigned to work the concert that night also took fire.
How do you react when under live fire? What do you do when there are people to help? How do you manage your emotions afterwards?
I am an All-Hazards Psychological Trauma Responder that was deployed to both the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert massacre and most recently the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting rampage. I supported the Crisis Intervention teams response for each incident.
Las Vegas Fire-Rescue (LVFR) personnel, both on and off-duty, did a heroic job of saving lives. Heroic is not a word I like to use as it has become diluted by overuse. However, in this case, there is no other word to describe their efforts. LVFR saved people during the shooting and triaged afterwards. The large number of injured and dead was overwhelming. The ever-present thought expressed was “We have a job to do…”
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One instance, an EMT ran up to a man kneeling next his wife and asked if they needed assistance. The man looked up and waved the EMT away. While his wife was alive, the husband knew she was not going to survive. The EMT later had difficulty with this memory of the man’s selfless act.
The thoughts of “Why couldn’t I do more…” or “I didn’t do enough…” persisted the days and weeks afterwards. The feelings of failing.
LVFR Crisis Intervention Team immediately deployed to provide support. The local IAFF Union President worked hard and compassionately supporting his men and women. Together they provided a support structure to ensure immediate and long-term mental health support for their personnel.
The recent shooting and killing of 17 students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is a different situation but with a common thread; “Why couldn’t I do more…” or “I didn’t do enough…”.
The situation in the latter incident is not one of being shot at but presumably did not want to become a target as the location of the shooter(s) was unknown. Broward County Sherrif’s Officers stayed outside while the Coral Springs, FL Police Department entered the school trying to save lives. Coral Springs, FL Fire Department was the responding Fire-Rescue to the school. They saw wounds they hadn’t experienced before. Adding to the stress, the whereabouts of the shooter was still unknown.
The Fire Department provided immediate Peer Support; 3 clinicians, 45 trained peers, 88 visits to 29 fire stations with 593 members contacted. It was not only the on-scene personnel impacted, but also the Communications Personnel who took the first 911 calls. They listened as shots were fired and worked to calm and guide the actions of those calling.
Psychological Trauma of both events is high. It is clearly observed in these 8 interviews.
In either case, the trauma of being a target, actual or possibly, stays with you after the incident. Takeaway: Stay connected, talk with peers, allow emotions and accept help.
Mr. Cole is K9FR’s subject matter expert and thought leader. He has 37 years experience in the security, crisis management and investigative professions.
A responder to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Mr. Cole’s deployments include Pittsburgh, PA synagogue shooting, Boston Marathon bombings, Las Vegas concert massacre, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting as well as peer support for public safety. He was deployed to Smyrna, DE to assist in the aftermath of the 19 hour prison siege, hostage taking and homicide.
Mr. Cole is a member of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), Boston Medical Reserve Corps (BMRC) and Boston Public Health Commission – Office of Public Health Preparedness – Disaster Behavioral Health – Crisis Response Group. Group Leader for K9FR’s Rapid Intervention Go (RInGo) Team. He is a member of Critical Incidents Teams for PD, FD, EMS, and DOC as well.
Certifications include Psychological First Aid (PFA), Post Traumatic Stress Management (PTSM), Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program Specialist. Mr. Cole is also Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and principal of Diogenes LLC; a boutique investigative agency focusing on white collar crime.
K9 First Responders, Inc. (K9FR) is a non-profit Critical Incident Mental Health Support (CIMHS) organization. K9FR Teams bridge the gap between a traumatic event and the connection to mental health services. A compassionate trauma informed presence leveraging the human-canine bond helping restore a person’s emotional and cognitive equilibrium. They currently serve 100+ agencies across 7 states.