Less than 30 seconds after the Oregon District shooter managed to fire his weapon 40 times on August 4, 2019, killing nine people and wounding more than two dozen, the assault on our community was over.
However, it was just the beginning of what turned into a chaotic emergency response. Over the next several minutes, dozens of officers flooded Fifth Street and started working on the wounded.
Dayton Police F.O.P. President Jerry Dix was there in the aftermath and said his brothers and sisters immediately fell back on their training. “The officers just went into life-saving mode and responded extremely well,” said Dix. “They were putting tourniquets on people who were extreme bleeding. Putting as much gauze padding as they had in their vehicles on as many people as they could and loading them in their cars and rushing them to the hospital.”
Immediately following the shooting, Dayton Fire released few details on its response.
Chief Jeffrey Payne, who has since retired, told Dayton 24/7 Now that only five of the 27 wounded victims were taken to the hospital by medic. “Many of those people that did make it to the hospital self-transported,” said Chief Payne.
Dayton Police dispatch reveal that was not because fire crews weren’t requested. Officers can be heard repeatedly requesting all available medics but, according to Dayton Fire dispatch records, that didn’t immediately happen.
Instead, Dayton Fire crews staged and set-up triage on the perimeter.
Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins declined an interview for this story, but in a recent sit-down with Dayton 24/7 Now he called the response “appropriate.” Chief Lykins said initial reports of a potential second shooter kept his crews from entering what they perceived to be a still-active shooting scene.
“It was very difficult holding our members back,” said Chief Lykins. “Of course we were there, ready to go in and no one wanted to go in there more than us but, if we go in there and we get shot and killed, then we just become part of the problem.”
“There has been some discussion as far as communication between the first responders, here in the city and the first responders on the outside of Dayton,” Dix told Dayton 24/7 Now.
Both Dayton Police and Fire use Montgomery County’s Regional Dispatch Center, which is operated through the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Dayton 24/7 Now checked with Sheriff Rob Streck and found the departments operate on different channels but have the capability that, if requested, can be merged onto one. That did not happen the night of the shooting and is a decision that has prompted agencies outside of the city to reflect on those relationships.
“I think we are still struggling in the greater Dayton region about having law enforcement and the fire department work efficiently together and communicate effectively.” said Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Fire Department Chief Jacob King.
Chief King said it is a fact police and fire use different language and codes in emergency situations but when seconds count, there is no time for a middleman. “That’s where police, sheriffs, fire chiefs around the region all have to decide how are we going to mitigate these emergencies? And how are we going to communicate effectively? And sign off that you know that it’s OK for fire to talk to law enforcement on the law enforcement channel and it’s OK for law enforcement to talk to fire on our channel,” he added.
“We were getting conflicting information perhaps there was another shooter involved, so our crews were vulnerable,” said Chief Lykins in response to his crews entering a potentially still-active scene. “We don’t have ballistic vests and tactical helmets.”
I followed up with Dayton Fire Department Assistant Chief Nicholas Hosford for clarification on what tactical gear is available to Dayton crews. In an emailed response, he said, “The Dayton Fire Department does not currently have Ballistic Vests / Helmets for all riding positions on our Engines/Ladders/or Medic Units. These response units routinely arrive on scenes without the benefit of protection from firearms. The department currently has a small quantity of ballistic equipment as part of the MMRS (Regional Metropolitan Medical Response System) Rescue Task Force program.”
Chief King said he doesn’t anticipate a time when fire and EMS crews will be rushing into scenes without relying on law enforcement partners to provide protection but suspects there will come a time when every apparatus will be carrying equipment to reduce risks to the fire and EMS personnel.
That is a change that’s already been made in many local departments. In addition to Wright-Patt, we checked with Xenia, Huber Heights and the Miami Valley Fire District. Each of the departments report that tactical gear is now part of their equipment.
“They want to be first in line now and you can see it in their eyes,” said Dix in regards to Fire and EMS crews wanting to enter active scenes.
He said in the months since the Oregon District shooting, Dayton police and fire have adapted to new training techniques that allow firefighters and EMTs to enter “hot” or “warm” zones, under police escort.
Dix said that should there ever be another mass shooting situation, the response would work much differently.
“These guys and gals from the fire department are stepping up in drones wanting to volunteer and go in with us. That’s a new way that’s coming across this country, which is an outstanding thing to have because that’s just something that’s never been heard of,” he said.
All first responders are committed to keeping you safe and growing from every response, especially what happened in the Oregon District.
“Yes, things happened, but that’s what we’re learning from. The day you stop learning, is the day you stop living,” added Dix.
The Dayton Fire Department has said it is waiting for the FBI investigation to be complete before discussing its active shooter response. However, Chief Lykins did say that immediately after the Oregon District tragedy the fire department sat down with the police department to look at areas for improvement. A tactical de-briefing or, after-action report, is still in the works.
Dayton Fire union President Kraig Robison added: “Our members followed the Risk Management Policy of our department and support the decisions made by their commanders that night. We admire and applaud the heroic actions of the Dayton Police Department.”