"Active Shooter is a situation where first responders are sent to a scene where there is a threat of a firearm or a firearm is in use," deputy William Fawcett said.
The initial focus of the program is to develop proceedures to respond to a report of a shooting or shootings at an area school, but the same principles would apply to any situation where a "weapons involved" call is received.
"Thankfully, it hasn't happened in this community, but it has happened elsewhere," Fawcett said.
Fawcett explained that dealing with an active shooter is something that recruits are taught at the Law Enforcement Academy. But he added, the training is an "erodable skill," that can be forgotten if not practiced.
Fawcett and another deputy suggested to Sheriff Buck Foley that the Fulton County Department hold an active shooter exercise for the staff.
That led to Fawcett being appointed to put together a manual for deputies, and to include information for firefighters.
"The Fulton County Procedural Manual for Active Shooter" contains instructions on how to secure a scene, evacuate victims or others and systematically search for an active shooter.
The manual also instructs firefighters how to establish a command post, block all entrances to prevent vehicles and pedestrians from entering the crime scene area and give special attention to parents and others who rush to a scene, concerned about their loved ones.
The manual also contains aerial photos of school campuses in Salem, Viola and Mammoth Spring, and diagrams of the interiors of each local school.
"I think this is a great idea," said Salem Fire Chief Nick Belvins, who was recently presented a manual for his department. "Firefighters are always training for something, and we will definitely be involved if a mass shooting should ever occur."
With the Active Shooter manual completed, Fawcett plans to meet with all 11 fire departments in Fulton County to discuss firefighters' roles in an active shooter incident.
After the meetings are completed, the sheriff's department and fire departments will participate in actual training exercises, hopefully at schools, to put written concepts into practice.
"The exercises will allow us to work with law enforcement, so we'll know our responsibilities and things can go smoothly at a scene," said Blanton. "We should get to the point where we know what our duties are going in, and carrying them out is second nature."
Fawcett recently held his first training session at Mammoth Spring to go over the manual.
"The manual will definitely be updated as we go along," Fawcett said. "I got lots of good feedback from the firefighters in Mammoth Spring. They know their community and pointed out trail roads that don't show up in the aerial map that will have to be secured, as well as main streets and roads."
In a school shooting threat in Salem, for example, firefighters will immediately block public access to the school and establish a command post, as law enforcement officers enter the grounds to assess the situation, evacuate students and teachers, if it is safe and begin searching for the shooter or shooters.
In addition, the Sturkie and Camp Fire Departments will be put on call to handle any fire or medical calls that arise while Salem firefighters are occupied at the crime scene.
"It will really be beneficial to have fire departments understand what active shooter is, and be ready to cooperate," Fawcett said.
Blanton added the role of firefighters will be a lot more than blocking roads and routing traffic around a scene.
"People are sure to rush to the school worried about kids and teachers inside," Blanton said. "Just like we experience at a fire scene, people will be very upset, and determined to get on the school grounds. We will have to be firm with them, while also trying to help them deal with their emotions and convince them not to make a bad situation worse."
The 1999 Colombine High School mass shooting in Colorado is the nation's deadliest school shooting. Fourteen students, including the two attackers, and a teacher were killed, and 23 were wounded.
Before Colombine, a 1998 incident at Jonesboro West Middle School was the deadliest on record. At West Middle School, four students and a teacher were killed, and 10 were injured. The shootings occured when two students, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, opened fire from a woods, after pulling a fire alarm to cause students to evacuate the school.
In 1997 in Stamps, Ark., two students were wounded when a 14-year-old fellow student opened fire.
"We always need to be prepared to respond to a school shooting threat," Fawcett said.