IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Aurora, Ill., First Responders Learn from 2019 Mass Shooting

The police and fire departments took the lessons they learned during a mass shooting incident in 2019 and have increased collaboration, plus implemented new training and equipment, to prepare for future emergencies.

Aurora police Chief Keith Cross talks to mourners gathered outside the former Henry Pratt Company building in Aurora on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, the fifth anniversary of a massing shooting there.
Aurora police Chief Keith Cross talks to mourners gathered outside the former Henry Pratt Company building in Aurora on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, the fifth anniversary of a massing shooting there.
Terrence Antonio James/TNS
(TNS) — Though praised in a federal report for its response to the Pratt mass shooting five years ago, officials say new training and gear make the city’s first responders better equipped to respond to an active shooter situation in the future.

Aurora police and fire department leaders say they have new training programs, improved communications and specialized equipment because of lessons learned during the mass shooting on Feb. 15, 2019. That day, an employee at the Henry Pratt Co. warehouse on the West Side of Aurora shot and killed employees Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner before leading police on a chase through the facility, where he shot and wounded five officers before dying in a shootout.

“Things can happen at the drop of a hat, and you have to be ready to respond,” Aurora Police Chief Keith Cross said. “I think that’s why we continue to put a lot of resources into the way we train our officers. We know it can happen, because it did, and it happened here.”

While the police and fire departments did train together prior to the Henry Pratt shooting, those training sessions are now much more frequent, according to Aurora Deputy Fire Chief Dan Osman. Training was also previously focused on rescue task force teams, which would go in to rescue victims once the police have isolated a threat, but has since been expanded, officials said.

Aurora Fire Department EMS Division Chief Jason Demas said that certain medics, called tactical EMS, now train to enter dangerous situations side-by-side with SWAT police officers. These medics do not carry weapons and instead are trained to immediately care for an officer that gets wounded or a victim that is found.

“There’s hours and hours of training that’s gone on,” Demas said. “They are there every month.”

The recent collaboration and joint training of the police and fire departments has brought the two departments even closer together, according to Demas. He said the two now see each other as being one public safety unit.

According to Cross, one of the major issues on the day of the Henry Pratt shooting was the lack of smooth communication between responding agencies, such as other police departments, sheriff’s offices and state agencies. The police department is currently in the process of working with other agencies to streamline communication during crisis situations, he said.

Statewide, agencies are upgrading their radio systems to use new technology, which will help bridge the gaps, Cross said. Aurora and Naperville, which are backups for each other, will also update their technology, he said.

Personal gear like door breaching tools and helmets has also been upgraded, and police officers now carry ballistic shields in their cars, according to Cross.

In the fire department, every front-line vehicle now comes equipped with ballistic vests and helmets, Aurora Fire Chief David McCabe said. Firefighters and EMS members did not have this equipment during the Henry Pratt shooting but still went into the warehouse to rescue victims, Cross said.

The police department has also begun to incorporate mental health check-ins with officers, according to Lt. Joseph Howe, the department’s public information officer. He said the command staff keeps mental health at the forefront of their minds and attempts to be in-tune with police officers to provide support when they need it.

Cross said the department is also prioritizing de-escalation training to avoid making a potentially dangerous situation worse. While this training did not necessarily come from lessons learned at the Henry Pratt shooting, it may prevent similar tragedies, he said.

“A lot of situations we deal with on a day-to-day basis could turn into something like this, but because officers have de-escalation training, and we talk about crisis intervention training, we’re able to avoid situations like this,” Cross said. “We’ve had numerous examples of people who were willing to hurt themselves or hurt other people, but they didn’t because the officers took their time, treated them with respect and were empathetic to their situation.”

Social workers now help officers follow up with the potentially dangerous people and help to connect them to resources that can help them get better, he said.

©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.