25 Investigates: Boston ambulance workers have no ‘active-shooter' response plan

BOSTON -- Boston Emergency Medical Services does not have a specific plan for how to respond to a mass shooting with an active shooter -- policies other major cities have, 25 Investigates has uncovered.

Concerns about the lack of a specific plan for an active shooter for the city’s ambulance workers come after a string of high-profile mass shootings, including one in October in Las Vegas which left 58 people dead.

The Las Vegas gunman researched Boston’s Fenway Park as a potential target before opening fire at a country music concert along the Las Vegas strip.

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During 25 Investigates’ four-month review of ambulance shortages and delays, members of Boston EMS – who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution – told 25 Investigates the department does not have its own plan for responding to an active shooter situation.

When asked why the department does not have an active shooter plan, Boston EMS Chief James Hooley said he’s working on a plan and pointed out his EMTs and paramedics have trained with Boston Police in the past.

“There is planning that’s been ongoing and is underway and we have been currently working with union officials on that,” said Hooley.

A Boston EMS spokeswoman said the agency has had procedures to respond to shootings for years and has a plan to respond to mass casualty situations – such as the Boston Marathon bombing – but one security expert says that may not be enough to get lifesaving help to treat multiple victims while under fire.

Todd McGhee, a former Massachusetts State Police trooper and security consultant at Protecting the Homeland Innovations, said mass casualty situations could include a bridge or building collapse and may not specifically address medical responses while under gunfire.

“We need to prepare for the unthinkable,” said McGhee. “You really need to understand the type of wounds people are going to be receiving – all the way from bullet entry wounds to being trampled… to rolled ankles.”

25 Investigates found the New York City Fire Department – which includes the city’s ambulance units – finalized its active shooter plan two years ago.

It also formed task force teams, including paramedics and EMTs, which receive special training and protective ballistic gear.

Washington, D.C. officials confirms it also has an active shooter plan – specifically for its medical first responders.

A spokeswoman for Boston EMS told 25 Investigates it is working to update its plans – including details about how staff should respond during an active-shooter situation – but couldn’t say when those updates would be complete.

Boston EMS has been plagued by other problems. An earlier report by 25 Investigates revealed the agency has been beleaguered by long delays and ambulance and staff shortages – which at times have resulted in patients forced to share an ambulance with strangers on the way to the hospital.

Members of Boston EMS told 25 Investigates there is no specific Active Shooter plan, but did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.

25 Investigates made repeated attempts to get a comment from the Boston EMS Union in advance of our story to no avail, but on Thursday, the BPPA/EMS Division Executive Board posted a letter to social media in response to our story. The letter said, in part, “Boston EMS developed a plan for high risk environment EMS response following the Boston Marathon.

Entitled ‘Warm Zone Operations at Tactical Responses,’ this plan was released on October 31, 2014.

The plan was heralded in the trade media at the time of its release. While this plan specifically references its application in the ASI (Active Shooter Incidents) environment its use is not restricted to ASI”.

The letter continued to say, “We were in the process of improving this initial version in response to this specific threat, within the greater context of High Impact/ Low Probability incidents, when the Las Vegas shooting completely changed the conventional approach to ASI. Our efforts now include the latest evolution of threat as well as the next iteration of threats that we will face. We don’t believe that anyone should, would, or has taken the position that our plan ever was a static final plan that doesn't require constant revision that would drive changes in our tactics, equipment, and training.”

We will continue to stay on top of this story, and bring you any developments.