NYC is reeling from the shock of Tuesday’s terror attack, in which a truck barreled down a crowded street, killing eight. There is no doubt that EMS response prevented further deaths in the twelve victims who were injured, some critically. As Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said, “[t]he Fire Department and the EMS personnel surely helped save additional lives.”
But this incident raises a very important question.
Is the New York City EMS network prepared for terror attacks? A quick look at the facts indicates that they are. In recent years, the FDNY has ramped up equipment and training for such attacks. In November 13, 2015, a few attacks in Paris killed 130 people, including 89 in a nightclub as the shooters engaged in an hours-long standoff with law enforcement. This was followed by the June 12 massacre of 49 people in an Orlando night club. These incidents changed the departments perception of mass casualty incidents, said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, because in both cases, it is highly likely that some of the victims could have been saved with prompt treatment.
What prevented quicker EMT response in those terror attacks?
During the terror attacks in Paris and in Orlando, EMTs could not respond to victims immediately because there was still active shooting. They did not have the protective equipment that would have allowed them to enter the scene while it was still a “warm zone.” “It was clear the FDNY must train closely with the NYPD to enhance the city’s response to these deadly incidents. Our members stand ready to enter dangerous areas — under NYPD protection — to quickly remove and treat critically injured patients,” Nigro said.
How has EMT training in NYC changed since then?
The FDNY has created five borough task forces, with 75 members in each, who are equipped to respond immediately to terrorist or other mass casualty incidents. Each task force consists of three fire officers, three EMS officers, 12 firefighters, six EMS members, and one battalion chief.
What makes these task forces unique?
Unlike most first responders, these EMS workers will enter a dangerous scene, also known as a warm zone, directly after the police. Because they will be trained and equipped to remain safe despite still-present danger, they will be able to reach victims significantly faster.
What equipment is given to the EMTs in the task force?
The FDNY purchased military-grade protective equipment including full combat helmets and FBI approved ballistic bullet proof vests, which are effective against both handguns and long guns.
How exactly are the task forces trained to enter the scene?
Each task force is broken into several entry teams, each consisting of a fire officer, one EMS officer, four firefighters and two EMS members. Four strategic response NYPD officers accompany each entry team to provide protection while they work on victims with critical injuries.
Has this program ever been tested before Tuesday’s event?
Unfortunately, yes. The task forces were first tested during last year’s Sept 17 bombing in Chelsea. Considered a warm zone since there was still a threat of a second bomb in the area, the EMS workers were brought in to evacuate the wounded from the area. In addition, a partial 25-member unit is activated for major city events such as parades and New Year’s Eve as a precautionary measure.