Once or twice a month, Superior firefighters are called to stand by for emergency response team operations, like when police officers serve a warrant or talk down someone who has barricaded themselves in a home.
A rig and three-person crew are stationed a few blocks away from the scene to give the Superior Police Department space, but to stay close by in case they're needed.
This week half the fire department — 20 members — worked side-by-side with members of the police department's Emergency Response Team on Tactical Emergency Medical Services training at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Firefighters with this training are qualified to get much closer to active scenes, which could be the difference between life and death.
“The purpose of this is to train our people to support tactical police operations,” said Battalion Chief Howard Huber. “Our goal here isn’t to make firefighters police officers. Our goal is to be able to bring the medical skills to where they need to be at.”
Whether someone survives a gunshot wound, for example, depends entirely on how fast emergency medical personnel can stop the bleeding, Huber said.
“Getting to that person within three minutes is critical if they’re going to survive," he said.
Firefighters can also utilize their incident command skills to support police operations. Staging an area for safety is their specialty, whether it's setting up a spot for officers to warm up when temperatures are low or making sure water is available to stay hydrated when temperatures rise.
"It’s a better use of the city’s resources to share like this," Huber said. "We’re working on ... coming out of our silos as police and fire so we can share those resources and support them."
Firefighters strapped on night-vision helmets and became familiar with the weapons police use.
Sgt. Chris Kirchoff, of the Superior Police Department, said it's important that firefighters know how to use the weapons police officers carry.
“If we get hurt, they can make the weapon safe,” he said, or know how to defend themselves in a worst-case scenario.
Firefighters also experienced what it's like to respond to a medical emergency in the back of the department's armored vehicle.
The firefighters volunteered to take the training on their days off. They’ve appreciated the chance to connect with police officers.
“I think we’re really gelling and working well together as departments, and that’s actually been a lot of fun,” said Captain Lindzi Campbell, of the fire department. “Hands down, both departments will be working a lot better together, better communication, which benefits everyone, regardless of whether it’s a critical event.”
The training was the result of years of work by Huber and Officer Marc Letendre with the Superior Police Department. The two took a Tactical Emergency Medical Services class years ago and have been pushing to bring it to Superior. They’ve been proving the benefits of such training incrementally, staging active shooter exercises at UWS and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College to bring the departments together. The new training offers the possibility of a more integrated team that pulls on the strengths of both departments.
Instead of sending a few people at a time to training, Letendre worked with WITC to create a curriculum that ticked all the boxes using Superior facilities. It was covered by training budgets for the two departments.
Now that the firefighters have received the training, it would require a city-level decision to create an affiliated Tactical Emergency Medical Services team in Superior.
“We have an inter-agency dive team already. It’s not unprecedented,” Huber said.
The fire department’s response in tactical incidents won’t change at this time, but their level of training, and their connection to police officers will be different. They've met, worked together and know each other on a first-name basis, he said.
“The relationship on the street really benefits from this kind of thing … so when we’re on calls together, our ability to work together is so much better," Huber said.