Two men in camouflage storm into the Sunrise Cinemas in Riverfront, head to different theaters filled with moviegoers, and begin shooting.
Moviegoers lie on the floor, screaming in pain as noise and smoke fill the air. Some can’t move from their seats.
“Help me, help me!” one woman screams. “I need help.”
But the victims — actually volunteers from Fort Lauderdale’s Community Emergency Response Team — weren’t hurt.
The scene played out last week as part of a joint training exercise between the Fort Lauderdale police and fire departments to practice a new procedure that allows firefighters to get to patients quicker and stop the bleeding as soon as possible.
“Before, we would stage somewhere away from the shooting scene and have to wait until we got the all-clear from police,” said Timothy Heiser, deputy chief of the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department. “This changes everything.”
The department recently spent about $100,000 on 112 vest and helmet sets to better prepare for active-shooter situations. Heiser cited recent mass shootings, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in needing to be ready for the worst.
Fort Lauderdale is one to the first departments in South Florida to buy special gear for all of its firefighters and establish a new standard operating procedure. Other department have started conversations about protecting their firefighters in shooting scenarios.
Most departments — including Miami-Dade, Miami and Hialeah — have SWAT medics, firefighters who are trained to handle active situations, but not equipment for everyone. Coral Gables Lt. David Perez said a draft procedure is in place and the department has purchased nine sets of protective equipment for rescue crews.
“We did it in abundance of caution,” he said. “We saw what was going on in the nation and we wanted to be prepared.”
Mike Jachles, spokesman for the Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue, said his department has bought a cache of gear for each of the six battalion chiefs to carry in their cars for emergency situations. The push for “tactical medicine,” Jachles said, has been under the leadership of the Fire Chiefs Association of Broward County. The association has been working on a countywide protocol for active shooting incidents.
“The old school of thought was fire rescue would stage, but that is not the mindset of tactical medicine,” he said. “The goal is to save lives, where every minute counts and we need to ensure the safety of the first responders.”
The International Association of Fire Fighters, a union based in Washington, D.C., encourages standard procedures to deal with “an attack by radicals armed with weapons in public areas, such as schools, shopping malls, churches or any other locations where people congregate.”
Last Wednesday, the Fort Lauderdale paramedics suited up in their protective equipment and entered the long-shuttered theater with police officers before the shooters — firing blanks for the exercise — were apprehended.
Capt. Dana Swisher, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s SWAT commander, explained before the exercise that police “will provide the security,” while the paramedics “try to save the victims.”
Wearing vests and pointing their guns, police entered theater No. 6 and quickly determined the shooters had left that particular area — even though the sounds of gunfire could still be heard. Officers escorted the paramedics in, who quickly tagged their victims with colors, depending on their injuries.
DeAnna Greenlaw, spokeswoman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, said the goal is to “eliminate the threat.”
Using new, lighter stretchers, the paramedics were able to carry a couple of wounded people out of the theater at 300 SW First Ave.
The victims were then put in rescue vehicles and taken to the “hospital” — which was actually just around the corner.
Heiser said training with police helps firefighters practice communication and prepare for tragic scenarios.
“You never know when things like this are going to happen,” the deputy chief said. “So you do your best to be prepared. That’s all you can do.”