FORT HOOD, Texas – Emergency response leaders here say many lives were saved by the courageous acts of those who helped the wounded following the horrific shooting attack Nov. 5 at the post deployment readiness center. They called the actions of Soldiers and first responders a “textbook example” of what should be done in the aftermath of a situation that was anything but ordinary.
The incident, considered the worst to occur on a U.S. military base, left 13 dead and 43 wounded before post police shot the assailant. The alleged gunman remains under guard at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Authorities say the gunman, armed with two handguns, fired at least 100 rounds indiscriminately into the crowd of Soldiers gathered for pre-deployment medical screenings.
The violence spilled outside as Soldiers fled, some trying to break windows to escape the carnage. Witnesses say the shooter continued his rampage at an adjacent building, shooting several others before police
confronted him. Investigators are still piecing together information about the alleged assailant to determine the motive behind the shooting. Safety officials who arrived just moments after the shooting said the number of dead and wounded was shocking.
However, exercises conducted in the aftermath of incidents such as Columbine and Virginia Tech helped the response and recovery efforts. Chuck Medley, a combat veteran who is now the director of the post’s Directorate of Emergency Services, called the combined response to the incident by military and civilian responders “seamless” and “nothing short of awesome.” From the time he first heard the call “Shots fired,” crackle over the radio, to the time he arrived on scene from his office, a scant few minutes had passed. With him was Fort Hood Police Chief David Ross, a former Army officer and Texas highway patrolman. Although the gunman was down by then, reports had another shooter barricaded in the processing center, perhaps continuing to hunt victims. A massive manhunt ensued, but the claim proved to be false. Other police units, including state troopers, were summoned to control traffic surrounding the post. The immediate focus of Medley and Ross was to eliminate any further direct threat, secure the scene and assess the wounded to summon whatever help was needed.
On their heels was Billy Rhoads, the Fort Hood Fire Department chief, who immediately went to render aid to Kim Munley, one of two post police officers credited with stopping the shooter. In separate interviews, all three men described the situation as “controlled chaos.” “Even with so many wounded, we were still able to take control of the scene rather quickly,” Medley said. Upon arrival at the scene of the massacre, Medley said, he methodically began to consider what resources were available in surrounding communities. He quickly called police chiefs in Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove, Lampasas and Temple, who dispatched units to
patrol and control traffic. Without their assistance, the conduct of the response effort would have been more difficult, he said.
Simultaneously, Medley relayed updates to post commanders. Poised, Ross directed subordinates to accomplish various tasks, including establishing a perimeter around the scene of the shooting to preserve
evidence. Equally significant were the actions of Soldiers who, not surprisingly, immediately sprang into action to help their buddies, Medley said. Courage was a common virtue, he added. “Many Soldiers exhibited total
disregard for their own safety to take care of their comrades. Without fail, Soldiers did what they’re expected to do.” Soldiers quickly began treatment as they have been trained, preventing blood loss by fashioning bandages from pieces of their own uniforms. “If not for them, we’d have had a lot more fatalities,” Rhoads said.
The wounded were grouped according to the severity of their injuries. Medical evacuation helicopters made continuous loops to speed the injured to area hospitals. As of Tuesday, 15 victims remained in
critical condition; six are in intensive care. Nine others remained hospitalized, but 27 had been treated and released. Through their exceptional efforts, the police, fire and emergency medical technicians saved lives, Medley said. Area fire departments also dispatched units to the post to replace post personnel who responded to the scene, ensuring coverage of all responsibilities.
The relationship between post emergency forces and first responders in the surrounding communities are forged in brotherhood, Rhoads said. “We all work together. If anyone needs anything, all it takes is a phone
call.” The mutual sharing of assets and co-training is normal in the emergency response field and the actions of responders here – fire, police and EMS – are already being studied and lauded. “Our mass casualty exercises were validated that day,” Ross said. “We train to fight … and people made critical decisions that saved lives.” Rhoads agreed. “We plan for the worst-case scenarios. Unfortunately, this one actually happened,” he said. “All the hours of training was put to use. Our folks performed flawlessly.”