Paramedics responding to the shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub last week never came within 100 yards of the building throughout the three-hour attack and hostage situation, according to that night’s incident commander for the Orlando Fire Department.
In an interview Thursday, District Chief Bryan Davis said 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 the gunman might have explosives.
“We’re not equipped to handle an active shooter,” Davis said, adding that the bomb threat “made it much more complicated.”
Authorities considered Omar Mateen an active shooter because they thought he was alive for the duration of the incident, Davis said. “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-nine people died and 53 others were wounded in the June 12 attack on the Pulse nightclub, and some survivors have questioned whether Orlando police could have done more, sooner. Police SWAT units did not smash through the building’s wall to kill Mateen and rescue 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 fire department representative said. But because it was designated an active-shooter situation, all fire and medical emergency responders had to immediately treat the building and the 100-yard radius around it as a “hot zone,” or area deemed unsafe for rescue personnel.
That meant that during the initial waves of gunfire, only law enforcement officers were able to load dozens of wounded into trucks and police vehicles within that hot zone and that in many cases, law enforcement officers were the ones who transported them to the hospital.
Some lives were probably saved because of that quick and direct movement by law enforcement, Davis said, across the couple of city blocks to the hospital.
In a message on its official Twitter account Thursday, Orlando police also said: “Officers ran into #Pulse helping bring out wounded one by one. put them in back of OPD pickup & drove to hospital.”
Davis said Thursday that he expanded the perimeter of the hot zone to 400 to 600 yards about an hour and a half after the shooting began, after being told by 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 people injured – many of them fatally – that night “came through our treatment area,” he said.
With much still unknown and unreleased about the crucial three hours between the initial shooting and when police killed Mateen, the Orlando Police Department said it plans to put together an after-action report much like the Aurora Police Department did after the 2012 mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater.
Orlando police spokeswoman Michelle Guido noted that it took about 22 months for Aurora’s after-action report to be released.
“While we fully understand the desire for as much information as possible, and we as a department are committed to transparency, we still ask that people be patient with this meticulous and thorough federal investigation process,” Guido said.
One of the key findings of Aurora’s after-action report was the need for better communication between police and fire during such incidents.
Meanwhile, Mateen has been buried at a Muslim cemetery. Citing a death certificate that was filed Wednesday, local media reported that the body was buried at the Muslim Cemetery of South Florida in the Miami area, more than three hours from the Pulse nightclub.
The funeral home and cemetery listed at that address did not respond to calls for comment.
The Florida Highway Patrol released records Thursday from Mateen’s application to become a state trooper with its agency in 2011. In them, Mateen said his training as a guard at security company G4S “taught me how to be responsible with a firearm.”
The records also show how close Mateen came to passing a Basic Abilities Test – required to become a law enforcement officer in Florida. It includes tests of memory, written communication, spatial orientation, and inductive and deductive reasoning. Mateen scored 75 on the test, just four points below the needed 79.
Meanwhile, the owner of the Pulse nightclub was planning to host a “Latin Night” street party on Thursday at a nearby venue. The party was intended to be a fundraiser for employees of the now shuttered club, organizers said, but also a statement of resilience. Pulse was hosting a Latin Night at the time of the shooting.