When the SWAT team loads up on the door, Skip Heflin of Hall County Fire Services wants to have his guys backing them up.
“Our eventual goal is to become (a) full part of the team, such that if we make entry in the stack, we would be in the stack with them,” said Heflin, who is the chief of training over the tactical medical team.
Reaching its first anniversary, the tactical medical team of six medics takes the same calls as that of the SWAT team to make sure law enforcement stays safe.
“It’s a game-changer. They have a higher survivability rate with us here than if they’re waiting on a (medical) unit,” Heflin said.
The process took months of preparation for an idea that had been kicked around before, said Deputy Fire Chief Chad Black. Fire Chief Jeff Hood already had experience with one previously with the Clayton County Fire Department and felt it needed to be kicked into gear.
The process to get to the “top tier” medics, Black said, involved an interview process with the fire department and the SWAT team before taking the same physical agility test as the SWAT team.
To be in the stack, Black said, requires equal parts physical fitness and mental toughness.
“Usually they’re not in a hostile situation. The SWAT team keeps things in control and do a very good job doing that, but you’ve got to have the right demeanor in the event something goes wrong,” he said.
Meeting at Chestnut Ridge Park last month through a mile of overgrown weeds, the teams for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, the tactical medical unit and FBI gather for training. Armed with tactical weapons, the group practices tracking people through the woods and for instances of waterborne attacks.
“Their main priorities are to be there for our law enforcement people and in the event something goes wrong and one of them becomes injured, but they’re also there if the SWAT team unfortunately has to do sometimes what they have to do,” Black said.
“They’re also there for a victim as well.”
In medical director Dr. Andy Ball’s pack are tourniquets, surgical airways, gauze and other devices needed as he readies his pack for the day’s training.
“Up until we developed this tactical medical program, our ground EMS with the fire department was always kept far away in a safe area,” Ball said.
The tactical medical team has been activated throughout the past year, including two instances in the past weekend. One involved a standoff with a Braselton Police Department officer during a domestic dispute while the other involved a shooting at Lake Lanier.
Black himself responded with part of the team to a scene earlier this year involving Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell and a deputy being shot.
The main thrust, Ball said, of the medical work is for gunshot and blast wounds that may be sustained in a dangerous situation.
“If they shoot a hostage taker or somebody like that, as long as all the operators are OK, we’re right there to take care of them,” Ball said.
Black said the department is looking to possibly add a few more members to make sure a team is ready at any time.
“If I’m going in a hostile situation like that, I’m going to like knowing I’ve got a paramedic right there with me in gear, that if I go down and something unfortunate happens, I’ve got somebody right there immediately to start taking care of me,” he said.