Omaha firefighters are training in body armor so they can enter crime scenes with police when they’re needed to save lives.

For the first time, Omaha’s police and fire departments have teamed up to form a new “rescue task force” to jointly respond in the event of a mass shooting or other situation where multiple causalities are likely.

The training started in January and runs through the end of March. Nearly every police officer and firefighter will complete the training, which counts toward their state-mandated continuing education requirements.

“We have to train for the extreme,” said Officer Devin Crinklaw, who is leading the effort at the police and fire training academy, 11616 Rainwood Road. “Ultimately, to see citizens die less often ... that is the goal.”

Tuesday, 40 police officers and firefighters went through four hours of classroom education and physical training. Part of that included learning how to apply tourniquets to themselves and others.

Dr. Craig Jacobus, an emergency medical services instructor at Metro Community College, outlined tourniquet use for the group and why many doctors think police and firefighters should carry them.

After the Vietnam War, Jacobus said, U.S. Army pathologists who conducted autopsies on troops killed in action concluded that about 2,500 of them likely would have lived had tourniquets been applied to their wounds.

After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the use of tourniquets was credited with saving many lives. But until the past couple of years, tourniquets weren’t standard equipment for police and firefighters. They were low on the list of preferred responses to wound care; direct pressure on a wound was and still is the first option for stemming blood flow. But the experiences of combat medics in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jacobus said, showed the value of tourniquets, especially when time is short.

“Any injury can be devastating,” Jacobus told the group. “But we try to do the very best we can to stop the bleeding.”

Later, during the physical training, firefighters donned protective vests and helmets to practice going into a volatile situation, with an armed police officer leading the way. The gear is being added to the city’s fire trucks and ambulances.

Historically, firefighters and paramedics couldn’t enter an area until police had gone in and secured the scene, meaning injured and bleeding victims had to wait for help, said Assistant Fire Chief Shane Hunter.

“We can’t wait hours while people are in the corridor dying while we’re waiting for bad guys with guns to be removed,” Hunter said.

Hunter and Crinklaw came up with the idea for the training six years ago, but it hasn’t happened until now.

Hunter acknowledged that it is unique to see police officers and firefighters training together. Such joint operations, he said, allow “police officers to remain threat-focused and us to be patient-focused.”

Nicki Mitchell, an Omaha firefighter and paramedic for 13 years, quickly got used to wearing the body armor Tuesday morning. She said the body armor and the training will help her do her job.

“Now we can be in the ‘hot zone,’ ” Mitchell said. “Prior to this training, we could only be in the ‘cold zone.’ ”

The group also practiced a scenario that involved dragging injured victims to what Hunter referred to as a “casualty collection point.” In a real-life situation, he said, paramedics would be at the collection point, ready to treat patients and transport them to hospitals.

Crinklaw and Hunter said the time for police and firefighters to work more closely together is overdue.

“We share the same mission,” Crinklaw said. “We shouldn’t wait until the killing starts. That’s too late.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-3100, maggie.obrien@owh.com

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