COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Columbus Divisions of Police and Fire had a difficult time figuring out what to do Monday night at a SWAT situation where a house was on fire.
“Only a couple times can I remember where we’ve actually had a task that required both our involvement at the same time, and that created some problems for us,” Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin said.
Martin said it’s rare that a SWAT situation and a fire happen simultaneously. But it’s happened twice in Columbus this year. In April, Officer Steven Smith was killed in a police standoff in Clintonville. On Monday, police and firefighters found themselves together on Taylor Avenue, where Devin Toles, 24, barricaded herself inside followed an alleged burglary attempt. She later died.
“The fire department can’t operate the way they would normally operate because of the barricaded person,” SWAT Lieutenant Paul Ohl said. “We can’t operate the way we would normally operate due to the fire.”
NBC4 obtained a copy of the Divisions’ joint procedures for scenes at which both agencies are present, including drowning, shootings and bomb situations. The document is 14 pages long, but the section regarding SWAT situations is short:
The Division of Police SWAT Section and the Division of Fire have worked out procedures for a “SWAT response.” The SWAT response will be initiated by the SWAT Section when a SWAT mission carries a high potential for violence and lifesaving medical attention might be immediately needed, such as dynamic entries or hostage/barricade situations. The involvement of fire personnel in a SWAT response, or for that matter any situation involving the Division of Police, will be confined to the established mission of the Division of Fire.”
Lt. Ohl said the SWAT team debriefed extensively after Officer Smith’s death, but no protocol changes were made.
“No two incidents are exactly the same,” Ohl said. “You learn something new from each one and then you grow with that incident and you make some adjustments and move on.”
Martin said he didn’t know what changes were coming, but he anticipated there would be some.
“I see in the future we’re going to have something that we can work with and maybe make sure that this same situation doesn’t happen again,” Martin said.