Local authorities prepare physically, mentally for mass casualty incidents

By: Taylor Temby Email
By: Taylor Temby Email

Local authorities say incidents like the Aurora shooting can happen anywhere at any time. That's why it's crucial they're constantly training and preparing should something like this ever occur in the Valley.

Listening to the 911 tapes of Friday morning's shooting demonstrate just how chaotic a mass casualty situation can be. KKCO 11 News spoke with local agencies about their specific roles in these types of situations, and they say it's all about practice and being mentally prepared.

"A mass casualty scene can be very, very chaotic," Grand Junction Fire Department battalion chief Duncan Brown said.

If a call goes out, emotions are turned off and instincts and training take over.

"[We train officers] in and put them into situations such as or similar to what happened in Aurora last night," Grand Junction Police officer and SWAT team member John Ferguson said.

From police to deputies, firefighters and EMTs, everyone has a specific role at a mass casualty scene.

"The main role in an active shooter or active killing incident for us is stop the threat, stop the death, stop the mayhem from happening," Ferguson said.

"[The GJFD] determine which patients need to go to a hospital," Brown added.

Local law enforcement responds to the scene, handles the threat and secures the area.

"God forbid some guy in a building or whatever, shooting people, we need to make that stop. That is our role," Mesa County Sheriff’s Office patrol sergeant Todd Sorenson said.

Once the area is secure, the fire department and EMT’s can work on caring for the victims.

"We have what's called, START Triage, which stands for simple triage and rapid treatment," Brown said.

The triage process allows crews to assess patients in 10 to 30 seconds and decide who needs immediate care and who can wait. For these processes to be successful, however, authorities must also be mentally prepared.

"You need to maintain your composure," Sorenson said. “Your mind is like a bucket of water that’s got sand in it. If you allow it to get all stirred up, you can’t see clearly through it. But if you allow yourself to calm [down] and focus, let all of that sand settle to the bottom, you can see clearly through that. And in that chaos, in some way, you try to do that in your mind to understand what the situation is so you can get your arms wrapped around it.”

It would be easy to let the chaos of the scene take over, but these officials know every day when they put on their uniforms, there’s always the chance something like the Aurora tragedy could happen.

"It’s up to us to make sure that we don't add to that chaos by letting our training fall by the wayside," Brown said.

"Our community expects us to go out there and step in between them and somebody that's trying to harm them," Ferguson added.

Local authorities will work to have the mental and physical abilities to keep their community safe.

The fire department has a grid to determine how many patients, and what type of patients, each hospital in the Valley can take. This way no one hospital is overwhelmed and it ensures there are enough resources to take care of the victims.

Local law enforcement also says you can help keep yourself safe by having good situational awareness. This means paying attention to the people around you when you're out and about and identifying escape routes if need be.


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