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Staff Reporter 

Eastern Washington University's active shooter training tests new skills

Police and fire combine on rescue task force drill


Paul Delaney

Eastern Washington University assistant police chief Gary Gasseling frisks Spokane Fire Department firefighter Bob Nixon as part of last week's active shooter exercise.

First responders got to test out a new concept in training last week as elements of area law enforcement and fire departments combined at the annual "Active Shooter" training presented by the Eastern Washington University Police Department.

Staged at the former Reid Laboratory School on the EWU campus Wednesday, Aug. 13, EWU and the Cheney Police Department were joined by members of the Cheney and Spokane fire departments to engage in a Rescue Task Force (RTF) drill that lasted about six hours.

"It was a real good opportunity to work with fire and get them prepared," EWU assistant police chief and spokesman Gary Gasseling said. "We worked so well together."

The idea of the drill was to train police and firefighters how to enter a building and render necessary aid to victims of a shooting.

The RTF concept is a relatively new idea in responding to mass-casualty events. Traditionally the fire department would stand off and wait for the scene to be neutralized.

But that changed after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where a victim lay bleeding for 45 minutes and died. "He was totally salvageable," Gasseling said.

"Now we'll take the risk if you protect us," is the thinking of fire personnel whose job is to render initial aid to victims, Gasseling added.

The security team now acts as protection for the fire crew rendering aid. One police officer takes up a lead position, and another the rear, just in case the location has not been fully cleared.

By the time the last two drills took place, a couple of monkey wrenches had been thrown at the RTF crews with an improvised explosive devise being detonated. That took out the first two police escorts.

"But the fire guys responded within seconds and requested an additional team of law enforcement," Gasseling said. "When we got done, it smelled like a hockey locker room because everybody was working and everybody was sweating."

Having the various agencies all gather and get on the same page was important for obvious reasons, but the exercise also helped in another way.

When a real incident takes place there are often people responding - area residents of other first responder agencies - who might not be officially dispatched but show up to assist because they heard there was something happening.

"All of a sudden you have all these people, (and you're asking) who are you, where you from," Gasseling said. "It's a great problem to have but sometimes it gets uncontrollable."

The training also allowed participants to test out a new communications system for first responders.

"This is the first situation we've had since we switched over to the new digital radios to utilize some of our training frequencies," Gasseling said. "It was very eye-opening but I think we took some really great strides to becoming one of the leaders in this area doing this."

The exercise involved about 25 first responders, plus people who played the shooter and victims.

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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