Every second counts

By VINCE TWEDDELL State Journal Staff Writer Published:

On a cold March day, patrol officers responded to a residence that was reported to them as a 911 hang-up.

At the scene things were worse than previously thought a man inside the home fired shots through the door of the residence. Soon after the officers learned that the shooter was fired from his job just that day. To further conflict the scene, it was probable the mans two children were inside the home with him.

Police officials determined it a possible barricade or hostage situation. A perimeter was secured. And the Frankfort Police Departments Tactical Response Unit, or SWAT team, was called to the scene.

Meeting before descending on the house, SWAT members were briefed on the situation and quickly went over an initial plan for entering.

Remember there are two children they may be in there and they may not, team leader Lt. Rob Richardson said. Everyone gets handcuffed and everyone gets searched.

From the command post, team commander Lt. Steve McCoy said, We havent been able to make contact on the phone (at the residence), so we dont have all the information wed like from them, but youll never have all the information you need.

The five-man SWAT team carefully approached the house. Shots were fired again, causing them to hold into standby mode.

Moments later the team moved again, closing in until they had come to within a few feet of the back door. On command, an ear-piercing, eye-blinding explosive device called a DEF-TEC was detonated, causing a diversion, while the team snaked its way quickly through the door, securing the ground floor.

But there was a problem: The man was not on the ground floor, but on the second floor and so were his children. Immediately negotiations began between the man and members of SWAT.

The talks continued for minutes, but from outside the government housing building, not much of the talks could be overheard.

Radio communication fell off as the team inside continued to try to get the man to surrender. Until McCoy reminds the team inside, If he goes again threatening to kill his family and starts doing it, were going to have to do what we have to do.

To do what we have to do would be to kill the man.

Minutes later as talks grew increasingly tense, the shooter became more anxious.

More shots were fired.

The children came rushing down the stairs as team members went up to find the man lying on the floor, in his own blood.

He had killed himself.

Incident not reported?

Why wasnt this incident reported in the news?

Fortunately for everyone involved this was a part of regular training exercises for the Frankfort Police SWAT team, composed of eight police officers and five tactical paramedics from the Frankfort EMS.

There was no real barricade nor hostage situation and no one died. The distraught man was a police officer acting as such, and the two children were also officers. It was one of many possible situations for which SWAT regularly trains.

However, there were guns Simunition guns, which replicate a Glock that fire small, paintball-like pellets that can leave a nasty welt on your skin even when landing on top of police-issued fatigues. Just ask any member of SWAT about that.

McCoy said SWAT has been called out 15-20 times in the past year, most of those to serve high-risk warrants or drug busts. On that March training day at abandoned public housing on Wilkinson Boulevard, the team trained for two other possible scenarios, including a school shooting and a high-risk drug warrant.

Tactical paramedics go everywhere SWAT goes with the only difference, according to McCoy, Theyre not armed and we are.

Having medics, who attend special training, on the scene has been pushed for since the Columbine shooting, said Deron Rambo, emergency preparedness coordinator for Frankfort fire and emergency services. He said during that tragedy contact was made with a teacher who had been shot. But because of the circumstances, no medic could get to the teacher, who eventually bled to death.

One medic goes in with the team, carrying IV fluids, tourniquets, supplies to perform a tracheotomy, supplies to quick-clot blood from a wound, extra drugs and other special protocols, said Rambo.

We should have enough on this vest to make a life-saving difference, Rambo said.

And while shots whiz by their heads or other commotions ensue, medics must be able to make life-saving decisions. Should they stay and treat the patient, pull the patient outside or conclude the patient has died?

Tactical paramedics are trained to make quick decisions. SWAT members attend two 10-hour training sessions per month, and these highly-trained officers are part of the team for no other reason than just wanting to be a part of it.

These guys will do this job for free, said Police Chief Mark Wilhoite.

And while that may be the simple answer, the camaraderie among the team may be another. After a scenario is completed, the scene in the training trailer is akin to a halftime locker room with coaches McCoy and Richardson reviewing what went right and what needs improvement.

In this scenario McCoy described the entrance as slow.

It was almost like excuse me, excuse me, he said. A little confusion there cost us five, six or seven seconds.

Richardson commended team members on their reaction time after shots were fired during negotiations, an immediate stampede up the stairs as soon as the first shot was heard.

This is part of being a SWAT member relying on instinct.

In a split second, we have to think about every situation we may encounter, McCoy said.

Like McCoy said, split seconds can make the difference in SWAT situations, and being able to react quickly is even more paramount while being weighted down with the required equipment. They wear military helmets with gas masks connected to the back, ammunition holders full of ammunition and thick Kevlar vests. They carry guns or rifles. When its all added up, thats close to 60 extra pounds, Richardson said.

Then there are the special tools some must tote, like the thick shield of the teams point man or a heavy battering ram used to gain entrance into almost any door.

(SWAT) officers have to belong to the Wellness program, Richardson said.

At the end of the training day, SWAT members pack their bags and return to regular duty. Yet, they must always be ready if the call comes, which could happen at any hour.

They do this for the love of the job and service to the community, Richardson said. Its like a ball team you dont want to let the other person down.

Unlike a ball team, though, if these guys arent there for each other, someone might die.

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