Police, Fire Train in Mass Shooter Tactics at Patriot Center

Fairfax City, County departments learn skills they can use in the event of widespread shooting.

How would local law enforcement handle a mass shooting spree at George Mason University?

A team of City of Fairfax firefighters, City of Fairfax police, Fairfax County police and Sheriff's Department deputies practiced that scenario Saturday, learning techniques that could help them handle an active shooter on Mason's campus or elsewhere in the region.

About 15 volunteers drew placards describing their injuries. Acting as victims, they lay throughout the Patriot Center as an officer acting as the shooter ran about the concession loop, shooting blanks and providing a target for police to overcome and arrest.

Fairfax firefighters donned ballistic vests and helmets before joining the police in their search of the area, stopping to assess and aid victims on the way. It's part of the City of Fairfax Fire's Tactical Combat Casualty Care strategy that allows for immediate treatment of life-threatening wounds in a battlefield scenario.

"Ten years ago all these people with gunshot wounds would've likely died," Asst. Chief Andy Vita of the City of Fairfax Fire Department said at the inter-agency active shooter exercise at the Patriot Center Saturday.

In the past, firefighters remained outside the danger, waiting for police to secure the scene before entering and treating victims. Thanks to trainings like the one held at the Patriot Center over the weekend, police and fire now practice giving medical attention to victims sooner. Interagency exercises also allow different departments to drill command, communication and cooperation in high-stress, mass casualty situations.

"We do this [exercise] so it won't be the first time these people work with each other," Vita said. "We feel more comfortable working with our police officers, and feel even more comfortable if we've drilled this before with the officer we're going in with now."

Interim GMU Police Chief Drew Tracy plans to hold two of these exercises on an annual basis. His time as assistant police chief in Montgomery County during the sniper attacks and Discovery Channel hostage situation gave him first-hand experience in dealing with mass casualty events.

"Multiple agencies don't work together on a daily basis," Tracy said. "Everyone here needs to know their roles and command needs to keep control of all these folks, so we put them through scenarios."

Sisc Johnson, a GMU student centers business manager, was a volunteer pretending as though she'd taken two gunshots to the abdomen. 

Her husband, Ben Johnson, drew a debilitating ankle injury. "I've fallen and I can't get up," he yelled to officers.

Once police took the shooter in custody, firefighters set the couple on a tarp and dragged them to safety and further medical care. 

"I think it's a good lesson," Sisc Johnson said. "I want to be prepared, don't you?"


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