Exclusive: Local police, Fire train for active shooter incident at St. Louis church

ST. LOUIS - St. Louis area police and firefighters are updating their approach to active shooter incidents, and the move couldn’t be more timely.

Across the world, places of worship have come under attack, most recently at a California synagogue, where one person was dead and three injured.

The training for local first responders began several weeks ago at a church in south St. Louis. Many of the men and women have run through the scenarios at previous training. But this one incorporates lessons learned from recent events.

St. Louis County Police Tactical Operations Officer Corey Zavorka referenced Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed and dozens wounded in a mass shooting in June of 2016.

“32% of those injuries were preventable deaths,” Zavorka said. “We’re not getting in there quite as efficiently as we could or should have.”

Zavorka credits the teams who responded to the Pulse attack, saying each incident provides an opportunity to learn and improve.

“It`s our responsibility as first responders or anybody. We need to look at these events and try to learn from them. So they`re not repeated, particularly in the St. Louis area,” he said.

Parkland, Florida, is another example, he said. Broward County officials changed their policy on shooting response following the deadly attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.

“Parkland as we know, the attacker, in that case, blended in with the fleeing students and left with them, in order to escape. He wasn’t caught for over an hour later. We’ve got victims that are injured. After an hour or two hours or three hours, if all we’re doing is searching for the attacker, in these cases it’s foreseeable that people will die didn’t need to,” Zavorka said.

The training at this St. Louis church places an emphasis on preventable deaths.

“It’s a simultaneous priority,” Zavorka said. “We’ve got to make sure that no more people are being injured. But we’ve got to start saving people as well, and getting people that treatment that people  desperately need.”

It comes at a time when there is heightened alert about security at places of worship.

In many cities, including St. Louis, police are in contact with area mosques during the holy month of Ramadan.

Each active shooter incident has its own unique circumstances. While there are many unknowns, there are ways to be prepared and for first responders.

“And for our department, and all the fire departments, locally here to realize that, is important. And train, and get on the same page. It makes St. Louis County safer,” St. Louis County Tactical Operations Shawn McGuire said.

The department’s Tactical Operations Unit is providing the training to police, fire and EMS personnel from throughout the metropolitan area.

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