School Shootings and First Responders



A person with specialized training is among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, such as an accident, crisis, natural disaster, shooting incident, or act of terrorism. First responders typically include law enforcement officers, paramedics, E.M.T.’s (Emergency Medical Technician), and firefighters. In some areas, emergency department personnel are also required to respond to disasters and critical situations, designating them first responders.

If the past Covid-19 riddled year of 2020 has taught us anything, it has been to wear a mask and to appreciate our first responders more than ever. While we were quarantining in the safety of our homes, our police, firefighters, and E.M.T. and Paramedics are out there continuing to do their brave work to keep us safe. The job of a first responder is extremely stressful enough. First responders see and deal with many things that the average civilian could not mainly handle. One crucial thing first responders do is to respond to the ongoing school shooting tragedies we are experiencing. They are the ones walking into an unknown environment, a dangerous situation to protect lives and mitigate the damage a shooter may inflict. We dedicate this article to the brave first responders and everything they do to protect our students and school staff.


Our brave police officers are the first to enter an active shooter situation, whether at our schools or practically anywhere else. Police officers must be the ones to clear a scene and ensure it is safe to allow fire and emergency medical services (E.M.S.) to enter and do their part. While law enforcement undergoes extensive training, it is still scary to think that they will enter a building, situation, or scene without knowing what to expect on the other side. How many shooters? What type of arsenal do they have? Are they out to kill everyone that comes their way? Do they want to die suicide by the police? It is anxiety-inducing enough to think about an active shooter situation in a small place, such as apartments. Imagine police having to search out someone intent on taking life in a location as large as a school campus. Most schools have so many doors, corridors, closets, classrooms, and offices, making the task of finding one lone gunman a daunting and dangerous one.


Right there, alongside our brave men and women of law enforcement, are our fire departments. Firefighters do not just risk their lives to put out fires; they also work heavily in E.M.S. While a fire alongside an active shooter situation on school grounds is rare, it is common for a shooter to set off the fire alarms to add more chaos to an already chaotic situation. Firefighters are prepared for every unknown situation, including when an actual fire breaks out. Firefighters are trained to provide emergency medical services; most are E.M.T.’s, and a smaller portion is Paramedics. As soon as a shooter has been apprehended or the scene is deemed safe, ‘fire’ is right there on the scene providing medical services to the injured. These scenes often are overwhelming, with students and staff potentially wounded, disoriented, confused, in shock, and scared. Since fire departments train heavily for moments like this, they can respond, triage, and provide pre-hospital care calmly and professionally.


While most firefighters are trained in E.M.S., civilians are trained in E.M.S. who are not firefighters. E.M.S. first responders are right there providing the urgent care needed and then rapidly transporting the patients to hospitals for the patient to receive the next round of extensive care required to preserve not just life but the quality of life. Pre-hospital care must be administered fast by first responders—one of the most effective mechanisms of injury in a school shooting is severe bleeding. Hemorrhage control is an actual race against the clock, with seconds making up the difference between life and death. Not only do our E.M.S. providers respond to stressful and often sad calls, but they must also work efficiently – because every second matter.


While hospital staff may not be on the scene of an active shooter situation, they are waiting with open arms to continue the care that a patient received in the field. Hospital staff does not start their shifts knowing what type of illness or injury they will treat for the day. Should there be a mass shooting on a given day, the staff is getting a phone call alerting them that they will have an influx of shooting victims coming in any minute. Just like our first responders working in the field, nurses and doctors must act quickly yet diligently. The effects of a school shooting do not stop once the wounds have healed. Many victims will require care from physical therapists based on the severity of the injury they received. Lastly, many victims, regardless of having received a bodily injury or not, will experience the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that a mass shooting will inflict on a victim. Thankfully, we have professionally trained providers to help with the long-term effects one may experience from a school shooting.


These workforce elements come together and are the ones we rely on to preserve life and mitigate the damages that one person can inflict on a group of innocent students and teachers. First responders and post-incident staff are a particular group of trained professionals who risk their lives to save the lives of strangers. As if that wasn’t enough, according to the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.), “First responders may be at elevated risk for suicide because of the environments in which they work, their culture, and stress, both occupational and personal. This stress can be acute (associated with a specific incident) or chronic (an accumulation of day-to-day stress).” For many first responders who witness the ongoing nature directly of these mass shootings – the road to emotional recovery can be a long one. At Protecting Our Students (P.O.S.), we have so much respect and gratitude for everyone that has endured and worked in such vicious, brutal, and violent first response situations.