REPONDING TO VIOLENT SOCIETY: HARD LESSONS FROM TOLEDO
BY JOE WALTER
Whether or not we can attribute it to superstition, Friday the 13th (February 13, 1998) was a bad day for the City of Toledo and the Department of Fire and Rescue Operations (TFRD). When events of that day were over, three civilians were dead; two more were seriously injured; and two firefighters were wounded, one critically.
RESPOND TO STABBING
It began with an emergency medical response to a stabbing at an apartment house at 1540 Brooke Park at 1554 hours. Initial information received by dispatchers indicated that “two children were stabbed U mother`s boyfriend did the stabbing but is not in this apartment now.”1
Engine 18, with Lieutenant Jeff Cook in charge, was the first unit on the scene [another first responder, along with two advanced life support (ALS) transport units, were also dispatched]. Cook`s first action was to determine if the emergency scene was safe. That ensuring a “scene safe” environment should be the first step in such responses is emphasized in our EMS continuing education training program. Lieutenant Cook observed that at least two police crews were on location and asked one of the officers (twice) if it was safe. Once assured by the police that the perpetrator was gone, he went inside to assess the victims.
Inside the apartment were three victims, one adult female and two children. The mother of the children, Vivian Morris, 30, had severe chest and abdominal wounds and was in respiratory arrest. Her children Adam, 11, and Ashley, 10, both had multiple knife wounds and were in serious but not life-threatening condition.
Cook split up the crews and assigned them to various duties for each of the patients.
In what would turn out to be the only good luck Cook had that day, Dr. Ed San Miguel, a physician who has a special fellowship to train emergency medicine specialists, arrived. A program requirement is that physicians observe and assist other emergency medicine workers in the field. Dr. San Miguel, along with the first-arriving paramedics and EMTs, treated Vivian Morris.
When all patients were treated and packaged for transport, Lieutenant Cook assigned Firefighter Dave Bilius to drive one of the transport units to the hospital. Cook drove the second unit.
What Cook and the other firefighters and firefighter/medics did not know was that the man who did the stabbing, Joseph Chappel, had left the scene, obtained a shotgun, and hijacked a car at a shopping center parking lot and was waiting to ambush the transport units.
When Bilius, driving the lead unit, slowed down as he approached the intersection of Jackman and Sylvania, a shot rang out and hit his windshield. Cook, following in the second medic unit, could not believe his eyes. He shouted, “My God, they just shot the life squad.” He saw the gunman reload the gun and walk toward the unit that had stopped. He thought about trying to run him over, but other cars were in the way.
At this time, Bilius looked up to see a shotgun pointed at his head. He instinctively ducked as the shot was fired. Glass was flying throughout the cab. Cook saw the gunman get in his car and drive over the curb through a gas station parking lot.
Cook got out of the unit and rushed to the aid of Bilius. He opened the door and quickly assessed Bilius` condition. Bilius` face was covered with blood. It was later determined that the cuts were superficial, caused by flying glass shards. Cook tried to request the police and more emergency medical help over his portable radio, but feedback from the mobile radio prevented him from doing so. He got out of the cab and walked toward the front of the unit to retransmit his message.
That was when he noticed that the gunman had circled back and was now pointing the gun at him through the open car window. He saw Chappel sneer. The next thing Cook remembers was the flame shooting out of the gun barrel and his flying through the air. Cook`s left arm took the brunt of the blast. He had more than 30 shotgun pellet wounds, including one that punctured his lung; fractures of the bones in his forearm and upper arm; and severe nerve damage.2
Fortunately for Cook, two TFRD paramedics, Kathy Mayer and Steve Kline, who were riding in the second medic unit, rushed to his aid. They were joined by Dr. San Miguel and Firefighter Denis Bembeneck. At this time, none of them knew whether the shooter was still on the scene.
Before his fellow workers reached Cook, he radioed the description of the car, including the license plate number to the dispatch office. This would later prove to be instrumental in stopping the rampage that tested the public safety resources that day.
Cook`s left lung was collapsing. To relieve the pressure caused by the blood loss, Dr. San Miguel, who had used his chest tube on Vivian Morris, “needle compressed” Cook`s chest, which helped to stabilize Cook`s condition and probably saved his life.
ADDITIONAL UNITS ARRIVE
Fire and police units throughout the city converged on the intersection. The contingent included Chief Mike Bell, EMS Bureau Deputy Chief Bob Metzger, and Acting Deputy Chief of Field Operations John Coleman.
The carnage did not stop at Jackman and Sylvania. About four blocks away on Barrows Street, Chappel attempted to hijack another car. He demanded the keys from Brandy Williams, who had just parked her vehicle in front of her house. She turned and ran up the steps and was shot in the back on her front porch.
Chief Coleman, who had assumed command, diverted units not needed at Sylvania and Jackman to the scene of the Barrows shooting. The police, fire, and rescue crews at the Barrows Street location were extremely anxious. They knew a crazed gunman was shooting at rescue workers; they did not know his location.
GUNMAN RETURNS TO HOSPITAL
Chappel was not finished yet. Amazingly, he drove to the Toledo Hospital parking lot, where, it is believed, he was waiting to “finish the job” he had started out to do. Based on the description that Cook had broadcast, a Toledo police officer approached Chappel`s car.
A chase ensued until police rammed his car at the intersection of Secor and Monroe Streets. Chappel raised his shotgun for the last time as police officers shot and killed him. Ironically, it was Chief Bell, who still maintains his paramedic status, who pronounced Chappel dead. Bell had responded about 10 blocks from the original shooting when the call came in for Monroe Street.
The department`s work was not yet finished that day. We had to deal with still more emotional and physical trauma. Cook underwent emergency surgery and survived. Vivian Morris died en route to the hospital. The Barrows Street shooting victim also died.
The department`s critical incident stress debriefing team was activated. That evening, we held a defusing for fire, police, and other emergency workers, including dispatch personnel, at Toledo Hospital.
Family members were notified. After the defusing, most of the members involved in the incident were sent home for the remainder of the shift. A formal debriefing was conducted on the following Monday. Its purpose was to update members on new information that had become known later and to give the parties another chance to talk about the incident.
In about three hours and 50 minutes, the TFRD dispatch office handled 344 phone calls regarding the incident and dispatched 58 units to 39 incidents. The dispatchers performed their duties in a professional manner despite the knowledge that their fellow workers were injured.
Even though we left the scene of a violent crime, we still were vulnerable and susceptible to personal attack.
The TFRD is seriously considering issuing body armor to members who respond to incidents involving violence.
Our emergency notification records were not completely up-to-date with regard to employees who have moved or gotten married or divorced and the next-of-kin to be notified in an emergency. We have since instituted a procedure that will ensure that these records will be updated twice a year.
After he was shot, Lieutenant Cook admitted that he did not activate the emergency button on his portable radio. This points out the fact that any action that has to be performed under highly stressful conditions should be “overlearned” so that it will become automatic.
We evaluated a suggestion that all transports of victims of violent crimes be escorted by police, but it was rejected at this time because of police staffing limitations.
The following recommendations pertaining to firefighter injuries at critical incidents were offered:
–Provide peer support by assigning someone to look after the firefighter`s needs. This person should not be someone involved in the official investigation of the incident.
–Notify the family as soon as possible, before news of the incident can be “leaked out.” Don`t forget to include the “significant other,” if there isn`t any spouse. If possible, have the injured firefighter tell his family.
–Remember that any statements taken from the injured firefighter before 24 to 48 hours have passed will probably be incomplete. During that time, the firefighter is still in the “alarm stage” of the crisis and will be unable to think clearly. Allowing time for hormones to be absorbed by the body will provide a better, clearer, and more rational statement.
–Family members should be provided with professional counseling services.
–Invite all personnel (including hospital, communications, and law enforcement personnel) to defusing/debriefing sessions.
–To control rumors, provide official information as soon as possible. Providing accurate, timely information can also help protect the victim`s family from the media attention that will be sure to follow.
–Follow up periodically with those involved, including family members.
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In a way, this incident ended the TFRD`s innocence. We always thought of ourselves as the “good guys”–just doing our job. Yes, we thought it might be possible that we would be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be inadvertently injured, but, as Jeff Cook says, “I never thought I would be hunted down.” n
1. The TFRD responds to about 40,000 EMS incidents each year. These include shootings, stabbings, vehicle accidents, other traumas, and other medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes. It provides BLS and ALS service to Toledo`s 330,000 citizens.
2. As of this time, Lieutenant Cook has not returned to full duty. It is still uncertain if he will ever regain full use of his arm due to the severe nerve damage.
A response to a stabbing in an apartment house turned into a harrowing experience for responders. When the incident was finally concluded, two women had been killed, Lieutenant Jeff Cook had been seriously injured, Firefighter Dave Bilius had been shot at but luckily escaped with only superficial face cuts, and two children had been seriously wounded. The stabber/gunman was killed by Toledo police officers as he was attempting to get off another shot with his shotgun after he had returned to the hospital parking lot in a stolen car. (Photo by Greg Horvath of the “Toledo Blade.”)
JOE WALTER is a battalion chief and staff assistant to the deputy chief of field operations at the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, where he has served for 16 years. He previously served as line operations battalion chief, chief of training, and captain in charge of the hazardous materials response unit. He is the past secretary-treasurer of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters and the current chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Police and Fireman`s Disability and Pension Fund of Ohio. He has a B.S. in fire safety engineering from the University of Cincinnati and is a member of the fire science faculty at Owens Community College.