TEMS (1)By Kathryn Menue


BELVIDERE – Back in April, the Belvidere Daily Republican featured a story on the newly developed collaboration between the Belvidere Fire Department and the Belvidere Police Department incorporating the fire department in the Tactical Response Team (TRT).

“We were fairly new on the streets with the team, but a lot’s changed since then,” Belvidere Fire Department Lt. Brian Harbison said.

According to Harbison, the TRT responds to active shooter/mass casualty calls. With the addition of firefighters, the TRT has expanded to include the Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS) system where Lt. Harbison and firefighter and paramedic Josh Oates can respond as part of the TRT to administer medical treatment faster during hostile situations.

“We have to have the ability to provide for the needs of our community…and being able to fulfill those needs is vital,” Harbison said.

Before the creation of this system, the TRT would lock down the hostile area to minimize damage, but this would also prevent victims from receiving medical attention in a timely manner. Now, with the creation of TEMS, Harbison or Oates can respond with the team.

However, the firefighters don’t initially respond with the police force. The police officers will go in to assess the situation before clearing the firefighters. Once they get the go-ahead, the firefighters will enter into the potentially dangerous area, or as Belvidere Deputy Police Chief Woody called it “the warm-zone,” to treat victims and determine if helicopter transport is needed, and how many ambulances need to respond.

They also are there to check the team’s vitals and make sure they remain properly hydrated.

“It’s a common sense approach,” Woody said. “It’s the police’s job to go in there and confront the threat, but the fire department will also respond so they can provide medical attention quicker.”

Since last spring, the program has come a long way. Lt. Harbison and Oates have worked hard to ready themselves for the TRT by attending additional fire courses in Romeoville, Ill., joining a three-day medial training with OSF, signing up for physical agility tests three times a year, and integrating themselves into the TRT training program with the police force.

“The fire department has been very cooperative with training with our guys,” Deputy Chief Woody said.

The TRT training includes range practice, tactical maneuvers, and training in the public to get a feel for a real life hostile situation. This training occurs twice a month and adds up to about 9 hours a month.

Lt. Harbison said the training has been a “real eye-opener of what we need to do.”

The fire department has also been busy buying new equipment such as ballistic armor (bullet proof vest) and Kevlar helmets. The armor includes a ceramic chest plate that would stop a rifle while the rest of the vest protects against handgun shots. The equipment weighs about 30 to 40 pounds with “Molly” attachments that allow the TRT to fasten additional equipment to the vest, which can add another 10 pounds.

Oates joked that the weight of the vests, “depends on how long you’ve been wearing it.”TEMS (2)

Other equipment that the fire department has access to include a TRT truck “outfitted with BLS (Basic Life Support) and ALS (Advanced Life Support) response kits, emergency bandages/ tourniquets to apply to gunshot wounds, and Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK).

Lt. Harbison said that these equipment additions are valuable to “just keep yourself in the fight [and] keep yourself engaged in the hostile situation.”

Even though Harbison and Oates are “completely outfitted” for the TRT, they are still looking for additional financial help in replacing their outdated communication system to match the police departments so they can communicate with the rest of the TRT smoothly. This new system will cost about $5,000 to $6,000.

Due to the additional training and new equipment, the Belvidere firefighters were the first in the state to receive their certified licenses in tactical medical procedures from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Overall, the integration of Josh and I has overwhelmingly exceeded any expectations,” Harbison said. “It’s been a great experience.”

Fortunately, this certification came in handy for Oates within the last few months. With his certification, Oates was able to respond with the TRT during a hostile situation where a suicidal man barricaded himself in his house with a gun. Oates was there to check the teams’ vitals and be on seen in case of emergency.

With the success of the call and the success of training so far, the Belvidere Fire Department has hopes of expanding the TEMS program within the next year.

“We are actually taking steps now to expand with the Sheriff’s Department to integrate them in the team so we’d be able to cover the whole entire county,” Harbison said.

Harbison said he hopes to add more certified firefighters to the program as well.

“Eventually, in the future, we’ll have enough trained staff to have TRT certified for both departments on every shift.”

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