As a Chippewa Valley Technical College student learning to respond to medical emergency situations, Tavis Shields used to ask a lot of questions about how to handle hypothetical situations that might arise, Jeff Asher, one of his instructors, recalls.
Last week, Shields, a native of Washburn, Wis., found himself, not in a hypothetical situation, but facing the reality of responding to the scene of a mass shooting. Now a paramedic with the Hennepin County Medical Center, Shields was on the team that responded to the Accent Signage Systems tragedy in Minneapolis, where five people were killed and three injured.
The shooter, identified as Andrew Engeldinger, then turned the gun on himself.
Shields said he and his partner knew they were headed for an unusual situation.
“We weren’t really sure what to think, but we definitely got word of the fact that it was some type of shooting” he said.
That didn’t mean they were afraid, though. One of the things he learned in his training at CVTC, and at Hennepin County, was that emergency medical personnel are not sent into shooting scenes that have not been secured.
Still, when Shields and his partner were escorted inside the facility, it was by officers with guns drawn. “That’s part of the incident response plan,” Shields said. “One of the goals is the personal safety of the responders. That’s something I definitely learned at CVTC.”
Shields’ unit was one of several that had responded. Shields and his partner were escorted to one particular patient, quickly did their jobs and transported the patient out to their ambulance. They were on scene only for a couple of minutes.
Regulations do not allow Shields to discuss the patient’s injuries, and he did not discuss other things he saw going on inside the facility during his response.
Shields, a 2009 CVTC graduate, is well aware that it could have been a much more difficult scene to handle, under the tragic circumstances, but he’s confident he and his partner would have been able to handle it. That’s what they train for. He said at Hennepin County, he had incident response training to cover such situations, building on what he learned at CVTC.
Asher has no doubt Shields was well prepared to handle whatever situation he encountered at the scene.
“He was a good student,” said Asher. What he remembers most about Shields is his dedication. “He said he didn’t want to be average – he wanted to be excellent at anything he did,” Asher said.
And so outside of class Shields would often ask his instructors about certain scenarios. Did he ever ask about a response to a tragic mass shooting? He didn’t need to.
“We provide that in the course. We talk about what to do when you’ve got multiple patients,” Asher said.
And that includes multiple patients with gunshot wounds, although the instructors are generally thinking about the students who will be practicing EMS in the military, where war wounds are a real possibility.
“We talk about what you do when you have multiple people shot, what you keep in mind,” Asher said.
Robert Bell, Shelds’ supervisor at Hennepin County, says the training involves more than learning a checklist of things to do.
“Technical colleges have recognized that there is more to being a paramedic than the simple textbook part. The colleges have done a wonderful job of understanding that students need to have the critical thinking skills aspect of it,” Bell said.
Hennepin County expects an applicant to have the minimum level of training to be certified to be a paramedic to even be considered. But beyond that, they look for candidates who demonstrate that they have an understanding of the profession in a more global sense. Bell said Shields is the only CVTC graduate in the department that he is personally aware of.
“If he is an example of Chippewa Valley Technical College graduates, I’d like to have a hundred of them,” said Bell. “He exemplifies a paramedic.”