Paramedics responding to the mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub last week never came within 100 yards of the building during the three-hour attack and hostage situation, the Orlando Fire Department’s District Chief Bryan Davis, who was the incident commander that night, said Thursday.
The fire department made a decision not to enter the perimeter based on intelligence provided by law enforcement that there was an active shooter, and later, that he might be equipped with explosives.
“We’re not equipped to handle an active shooter,” Davis said, and the added possibility of a bomb threat “made it much more complicated.”
Because Omar Mateen was presumed to be alive throughout the whole three-hour ordeal, he was considered an active shooter, Davis said. “We didn’t have that intel — we didn’t know exactly where he was at. We didn’t have opportunity to make entry into that building until the shooter was either arrested or killed.”
Forty people died and 53 others were wounded in the June 12 attack on Pulse nightclub, and some of the survivors have questioned whether Orlando police could have done more. Police SWAT units did not smash through the building’s wall to kill Mateen and liberate hostages, many of whom were wounded, until three hours after the start of the ordeal.
Eighteen ambulances, as well as 16 other emergency response vehicles, including fire engines, ladder trucks and hazmat vehicles, responded to the scene of the shooting that night, a spokesperson for the Orlando Fire Department said. But the active shooter situation compelled fire and medical emergency responders to immediately designate the building and the 100-yard radius around it a “hot zone,” or area deemed unsafe for rescue personnel.
That meant that during the initial waves of gunfire, Davis said, dozens of wounded were loaded into trucks and police vehicles within that hot zone and transported directly to the hospital by law enforcement officers.
“Because [police] were in that hot zone, they did have individuals that they did load into the back of their vehicles and drove directly to the hospital,” he said, adding that some lives were probably saved because of that quick and direct movement across the couple of city blocks to the hospital.
Davis said Thursday that he expanded the perimeter of the hot zone to a total of 400 to 600 yards about an hour and a half after the shooting began, after receiving intelligence from law enforcement that Mateen might have a bomb.
“Originally we treated 100 yards around Pulse as our hot zone,” Davis said. “Once we learned that there was a possible explosive device, it expanded.”
“The shooter was actually texting and telling people he had a bomb,” Davis said.
Overall, about 35 of the more than 100 people injured – many of them mortally – that night “came through our treatment area,” he said.