SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – For deadly mass shootings, like the most recent one in the Dallas area, how Utah police and paramedics respond has aggressively changed, they said, to better save lives.

Some agencies like Unified Police and Unified Fire send in paramedics so quickly that it’s almost like going into an active military zone. ABC4 explains how they pull it off, in this edition of Behind the Badge.

Responding to mass shootings, like that of last weekend’s deadly mall shooting in Texas, or this Spring’s school shooting in Nashville, police and paramedics know how quickly they arrive could determine how many victims live or die.

“There’s a window that we have between the time someone receives an injury and we get them to the hospital that we can increase their chances of survival,” said Unified Police Department Sgt. Melody Cutler. 

Sgt. Cutler said Utah police want to avoid national massacres like last May’s 77-minute delay in confronting a killer at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which contributed to the deaths of 19 children and two teachers. That’s why Unified and other police departments in the Salt Lake Valley send in paramedics with police before the scene is completely clear.  

“Our goal is to hopefully have medics in that building within 15 minutes of when that call came in,” said Cutler.  

Responders create what they call a “Rescue Task Force,” where paramedics strap on ballistic vests and helmets and go in with armed officers to render aid in what’s considered a warm zone: after the shooter is contained, but not before the threat is over.

“They’re in there finding victims, taking care of the victims; the law enforcement is there to help safeguard and protect us,” said Unified Fire Authority Battalion Chief Embret Fossum.  

Unified Fire Health and Safety Battalion Chief Embret Fossum said the practice of sending in paramedics earlier began roughly 10 years ago and took some getting used to.

“It’s definitely a mind shift, it’s a different narrative than what we’ve primarily done,” said Fossum.

Inspired by mass shootings like Virginia Tech in 2007 or Aurora, Colorado in 2012, Utah responders said they knew waiting to send in medical aid couldn’t happen here.  

“There had to be something done. There had to be a change in how we respond,” said Cutler.

“When we staged and waited for law enforcement to clear that scene a lot of time, we have about 30 to 40 minutes you can affect care, and anything after that is when the survival rate plummets,” said Fossum.

They said Utah’s Trolley Square shooting in 2007 may not be the last time Utah faces a mass shooter, and if time has taught us the importance of responding faster, then we also need to know it could happen again, not just threats or hoaxes.  

“It’s happened throughout the valley, and it happens more often than people think it does,” said Fossum.

For Unified first responders that means wearing different hats, they may need to protect themselves in dangerous situations we haven’t seen in years.  

Unified aren’t the only ones doing this response in Utah, in fact, they regularly train for this with a number of agencies across the Salt Lake Valley. So, when the time arrives, it doesn’t matter where it happens, they can pull it off.