JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The shooting at a bar in Southern California has been a stark reminder for first responders across the country that mass shootings can happen anywhere at any time.
Police and firefighters in Jacksonville are well aware. They responded to a mass shooting Aug. 26 at the Jacksonville Landing. Two people were killed and 10 others were injured when gunfire erupted during a Madden tournament at the Good Luck Have Fun Game Bar inside Chicago Pizza. Police said the shooter took his own life afterward.
According to News4Jax records, this year, Jacksonville has had four mass shootings, including the one at the Landing and an Oct. 21 mass shooting about a half-mile from the Jaguars stadium that left one dead and five wounded. On June 5, three died and one was wounded in a drive-by shooting on Town Center Parkway. On April 6, four were injured in a drive-by shooting on the city's Westside,
In the wake of the deadly mass shooting in California, News4Jax on Thursday talked with first responders in Northeast Florida about they have changed their protocols because of these mass shootings.
It’s a dangerous decision to go into an active shooter situation. One of the first responding deputies to the California bar shooting was killed doing just that, but police and firefighters say it’s necessary to save lives.
"Really there has been a whole new mindset as far as how to respond to active shooters," said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. "It's a much more aggressive move forward."
Wyse said local firefighters now train with police and paramedics no longer wait for the scene to be clear.
"The studies have shown that people are lying there, dying as we are staging," Wyse said. "So the department is taking a very aggressive stand to go in with JSO (Jacksonville Sheriff's Office) immediately."
The News4Jax I-TEAM saw that procedure in Alachua County, as well, when firefighters, police and sheriff's deputies trained at a school. Medics wore bulletproof gear and went in with law enforcement.
"You have a job to do, and you don’t have time to be scared or nervous," Alachua County Sheriff's Deputy Lance Yaeger explained to the I-TEAM in July.
Back in Jacksonville, Wyse said Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department supervisors carry ballistic vests in case of an active shooter. The department plans on getting them for every firefighter on duty.
"Unbelievable. Never in my career did I think that we would be outfitting firefighters with bulletproof vests and sending them in with police officers," Wyse said. "But we are able to adapt. We are there to protect the citizens. That's what we need to do."
Recently, news magazine and television program "60 Minutes" interview the Broward County medical director who gave his 12-year-old son first-aid training and an emergency kit to take to school. A sad but relevant precaution that Wyse said is a good idea.
"If something, unfortunately, does occur, it would be great to have those tools there to render aid quickly," Wyse said.
Many firefighters and police believe they were able to save lives at the Jacksonville Landing shooting because they were so close and they were prepared to go in and help immediately.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has said the outcome of the Landing shooting shows its response was quick and within minutes. News4Jax has asked to talk to sheriff numerous times about JSO protocol in these situations but, so far, he has not agreed to do that on camera. News4Jax has also requested a written copy of its policy.
As for other local law enforcement agencies, St. Johns County helped set a national standard when it comes to responding to mass shootings.
According to St. Johns County Sheriff's Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan, it started after the Columbine shooting in 1999. Now, instead of waiting for SWAT teams to arrive, deputies are now trained and equipped to move right in.
"Back in the day, we did receive criticism because it was such an outward thinking, out-of-the-box concepts that the sheriff came up with, which was we were going to go in the building. We received criticism from professors of criminology and from different news agencies across the country that was not the appropriate protocols," Mulligan said. "But of course, if we look back today hindsight being 20-20, the national standard (is) what we begin to develop some 18 years ago."
Given the events of today and the increase in these types of shootings, Mulligan believes its working even though its put officer in danger.
"We saw that last night tragically. But the option for law enforcement is to save innocent lives. So by our presence, if the shooter turned his attention to us that means he can’t turn his attention to others who are innocent, unarmed and unable to defend themselves."
Mulligan added that officers deal with the threat of gun violence daily, more now than before, when they respond to situations.