Rescuing Cops in the Kill Zone

IALEFI (International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors) is dedicated…

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IALEFI (International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors) is dedicated to promoting safe, relevant, dynamic training that will allow officers to win fights. IALEFI holds both ATC (Annual Training Conferences) and RTC (Regional Training Conferences) to further instructors’ development. I’ve been a member for years, usually teach at each ATC and try to attend as much training as I can during that week.

Sgt. Jason Wuestenberg, owner of Pro-Active Training Institute (www.pro-activetraining.us) and officer of the Phoenix, AZ, P.D., and his partner, P.P.D. Officer Frank Herman taught a class at the May 08 ATC on Downed Officer Rescue. The basic format of the class follows the lessons of active shooter training—there isn’t time to wait for S.W.A.T., establish communication, set up a perimeter…by the time all that’s been done, the officer may have bled out. The downed officer needs to be rescued in seconds, not in minutes.

Be Eclectic—Do What Works
One great feature of the class was the lack of “it has to be done this way” attitude. It was stressed that small departments are not going to have eight officers at the scene in two minutes, so the rescue might have to be conducted by two guys. A complicated plan with lots of resources isn’t going to happen, as 90 percent of the agencies in the U.S. have fewer than 20 officers. Several experienced officers posed questions and possible solutions, and the instructors were quick to say “that works for me.”

There were three learning objectives in this 4-hour class: 1) Conduct an open-area rescue, on foot, without shields, 2) Conduct an open-area rescue, on foot, with one- and-two shield configurations, and 3) Learn how to carry an injured officer or citizen.

One sobering reality that both instructors emphasized was that not all officers may always be saved. If the risk is too great, the enemy too strong, and you have a very high probability of losing more officers, a rescue may not be possible. You can minimize the risks as much as possible, but not all risk can be removed. If you lose two or three more officers in the kill zone, you have accomplished nothing and made a really bad day really, really bad.

The Open-Area Rescue, without shields, would be of most use to most agencies in the U.S. If you are a deputy in Snake’s Navel County, and the nearest supervisor is 100 miles away, there’s not much use in talking about deploying shields. You might as well ask for an airstrike. In this rescue, speed is the goal. After training and practice, we were clearing the kill zone in 20 seconds.

Scenario Training
A scenario could be that five officers arrive on scene after the initial shooting. This rescue is accomplished by setting up a hasty team, and plan. The team leader, usually the third guy in the stack, directs the movement in general terms. The team leader may be the sergeant, a senior officer, a S.W.A.T. trooper, whomever—the other officers just have to do as he says. Officer one and two are cover officers; they move to the right and left of the downed officer and provide cover fire. This takes coordination and communication, so both don’t run dry at the same time. The team leader posts between the downed officer and the goblin; He watches the cover and makes sure the two rescue officers have the victim and are moving out. The team leader then shouts to get out, while he provides cover fire.

We tried several variations of the covered withdrawal and found that each had strengths and weaknesses. Carrying the victim out is the priority, and we tried several methods: fireman carry, two man, seated, etc. Sgt. Harald Wiedena, from Austria, showed us a technique used there called the Rautek technique. It’s simple and very effective, and allows one officer to quickly drag the wounded officer out: Kneel behind the victim and raise him to a sitting position: Holding him in place with a knee; reach under both arms and grab one arm of the victim, on the wrist and the forearm. Pull him in tight and move backward quickly. It was the most efficient way for one officer to move a wounded guy that any of us had seen. To the credit of the instructors, they immediately stole it and put it into the lesson plan. A good cover officer and one carrier could rescue a cop using this method.

Shield Maneuvers
The Phoenix P.D. has shields in supervisors’ cars, on the street, every day. For them, it’s no big deal to quickly have one or two shields in place, in a couple of minutes. If your agency has them, shields offer a good option in rescuing the downed officer. As with any technique or tactic, there are pros and cons.

The biggest con I saw was speed—shield techniques are slower. A smart bad guy would blow the legs out of the shield carrier, grinding it all to a halt and creating a second downed officer. However, with good cover-officers protecting the stack, this risk can be limited. We trained with one shield, two shields, one and two cover-officers, and with carbines and handguns providing the cover.

In the basic file formation, all of the team is behind the shield man. The shield carrier carries the shield, and does not try to stick his pistol around the side of the shield: He can’t hit anything, and he needs both hands on the shield. The second officer provides cover, while the rescuers and TL (team leader) make up the rest. Most of us found that the TL should be the last guy in the stick—he can maneuver the team, provide cover, ensure the evacuation, and provide good command and control. The TL being closer to the front of the stack made us divide attention front and rear, and none of us liked it.

A second formation option is the “T.” The shield man is in the center, with a cover officer on each side. These three are followed by the rescuers and the TL. The stack advances on an angle, swings to cover the downed officer, makes the rescue, then backs away.

I’ve seen, and taught, many variation of officer rescue. It can be as simple as dragging his heels and running for the nearest cover, to something requiring more manpower. Or, a couple of good riflemen with AR’s can lay down a base of fire to allow the rescuers time to grab the victim. It just takes time, practice, and a little teamwork to make it all go.

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