January 1st was not just the start of a new year in Colorado. It was a big change day for the men and women of Littleton Fire Rescue (LFR), as their fire department is dissolved and their staff and facilities are absorbed and integrated into the massive South Metro Fire Rescue, the second-largest fire department in Colorado.
The tragedy at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, resulted in me traveling to the beautiful city of Littleton to personally meet and interview the men and women of LFR and their mutual aid neighbors.
I walked through the bullet-riddled entranceways and hallways of Columbine with senior staff and was then allowed to interview all of the key responders and command officers who managed the tragedy that awful day.
LFR assigned a captain to arrange and carefully manage interviews with 30 staff members in a city conference room. The captain did it in a dignified and professional process. (This was extremely important in light of the post-incident emotional aftereffects on all involved and non- involved staff.)
I listened to their stories and heard their accounts and roles in great detail; shared emotions, tears and fears with them; and became good friends with many afterwards.
They did a masterful job under the worst of circumstances.
Historically, it’s important to note that not one student shot by long rifles and shotguns, and then treated and transported by EMS, died that day.
LFR had recently moved to all personnel being certified to provide ALS and was able to provide early one-on-one ALS trauma care and rapid transport to all patients they touched. They saved them all.
In the small cul-de-sac at Yukon and Cayle, LFR crews were confronted with 11 critically wounded students who were extricated from the school and brought down a long exit route that terminated in that small cul-de-sac. They were laid side-by-side on one fateful front lawn.
The well-trained and disciplined LFR staff, as well as their neighboring agencies, dug in and methodically triage, treated and transported them all—and, again, they all survived.
My article, Assault on Columbine: EMS amid the chaos of our nation’s most violent school incident, and our JEMS September cover won first place awards from the Western Publishing Association that year—and LFR staff won my heart.1
I became fast friends with the staff and officers afterwards and followed their progress and advancements in EMS.
In the years after Columbine, LFR has continued to advance with EMS best practices and science, deployed the most advanced treatment tools like mechanical chest compression devices, and designed some of the safest and best-designed ambulances that many agencies traveled to see and copy.
Mergers often result in staff being forced to do things the way of the bigger agency without the bigger agency willing to learn from their new medically advanced aquisition.
I pray that South Metro Fire Rescue doesn’t just absorb LFR’s exceptional paramedics and EMS first responders into their superstructure without listening and learning from LFR’s EMS ideas, innovations and enthusiasm.
I know that the LFR’s “masters of medicine” will become an asset to South Metro Fire Rescue, and they will continue to render exceptional care and customer service to an even larger service area.
Godspeed to my friends and colleagues from Littleton Fire Rescue as you continue your careers in EMS, fire and rescue together under the South Metro Fire Rescue banner.
1. Heightman AJ. Assault on Columbine: EMS amid the chaos of our nation’s most violent school incident. JEMS. 1999;24(9):32-40, 42-43, 45-6.