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Independent Review Of Orlando Fire Department Response To Pulse: Policies Were Outdated

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The National Police Foundation has issued an independent review of the Orlando Fire Department’s response to the Pulse nightclub shooting.

The report, released Wednesday, largely corroborates an investigation by WMFE and ProPublica released in September finding the Orlando Fire Department failed to prepare adequately for a mass shooting, despite people within the organization sounding the alarm.

Our investigation found that bulletproof vests for firefighters went unused the night of Pulse, despite years of attempts to create a policy on what’s known as a rescue task force. That’s a team of paramedics, guarded by police, that would have had a window to go inside Pulse nightclub to triage and treat shooting victims.

The after-action report from the National Police Foundation also criticized the department for failing to coordinate with police during the shooting, which delayed some victims getting to the hospital. The police foundation also concluded OFD policies were outdated and didn’t follow best practices from other terrorist attacks.

Among the report’s findings:

  1. The report criticized the Orlando Fire Department for not doing its own review of the shooting response.
  2. Orlando Fire Department officers violated their own protocols by not being in the same unified command center with the police department. The lack of communication and coordination “temporarily stalled” the transport of victims to the hospital. It also meant fire rescue was “under-utilized” during Pulse.
  3. Orlando Fire Department’s response was hampered by outdated policies: two not updated since 2001, and a third untouched since 2004. “OFD … must not only train, but also ensure that policies, procedures, protocols and training are put into practice.”
  4. OFD didn’t have adequate policies to address the mental health of first responders. That meant OFD personnel who responded didn’t get one-on-one counseling before being sent home, and many kept running calls after the shooting. Firefighters ended their shifts and went home with no mandatory counseling or schedule for a mental health evaluation.
  5. The shooting also affected the families of first responders. One OFD employee left his phone in his truck and missed 40 calls from his wife.The department did not follow its own guidelines for having a critical incident stress management team in place, and many firefighters said a CISM hadn’t been deployed in decades.

You can read the full National Police Foundation After Action Report on the Orlando Fire Department’s response to the Pulse nightclub shooting here.  In a press release, the city of Orlando says it has updated its active shooter policies since the Pulse nightclub shooting which left 49 dead and more than 50 injured.

A separate, peer-reviewed independent study of Pulse nightclub autopsies concluded 16 victims could have lived had they gotten medical care sooner. WMFE and ProPublica’s investigation can be read here.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.