First 12 Minutes: City of Falls Church fire marshal develops active shooter program

Virginia

It takes an average of 12 minutes for first responders to arrive to the scene of a crime. In an active shooter situation, those first 12 minutes are crucial.

Captain Tom Polera is the City of Falls Church’s chief fire marshal and emergency manager. Following the Charleston church and Sandy Hook shootings, Polera and a team of command staff members streamlined a program to teach schools and houses of worship how to protect those inside during active shooter situations.

The program is just under one year old, and it’s already trained upwards of 600 people. Polera and his team researched former shootings, like Virginia Tech’s 2007 massacre, and determined proactive responses are more effective than passive ones.

“One classroom locked down completely. Another classroom — the professor had all the students jump out of the second story window and saved 14 lives there,” said Polera.

At Saint James Catholic School in Falls Church, shelter in place is no longer standard. “There’s more we can do for ourselves and for our students than just closing the door…but being more proactive in protecting them,” said Sister Mary Sue Carwile, principal of Saint James. 

Thanks to First 12 Minutes, Sister Carwile and her faculty are trained to charge an active shooter. 

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