CLEARWATER — Bleeding and hysterical, the woman ran out of the building and yelled to the SWAT team members approaching in a single-file line.
"Help! Help! My boyfriend's in there! You have to come do something!"
The sound of gunshots poured out of the open door of a warehouse and drowned out the sound of a man moaning in pain.
By all appearances, the SWAT team was moving in on a workplace shooting with multiple casualties.
But the chaotic scene Thursday afternoon was actually an exercise to train SWAT medics how to deal with "active shooters" and other SWAT situations.
The multijurisdictional training program for paramedics is based on new tactical medical protocols recently adopted in Pinellas County.
Five agencies in Pinellas have medics trained to give care in hostile situations — Clearwater Fire and Rescue, Largo Fire and Rescue, Pinellas Park Fire Department, St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, and Sunstar Paramedics. The medics wear bulletproof vests and helmets and go through SWAT training but do not carry weapons. They respond to tactical scenes along with SWAT officers.
Until now, each team has been operating under its own guidelines. The new protocols will streamline standard operating procedures for all SWAT medics in the county.
The main goal, said Clearwater Fire and Rescue Lt. Chris Hoyne, is to start treatment as quickly as possible to decrease the chance of death.
Hoyne pointed to Dave Sanders, the teacher and coach who died during the Columbine school shooting rampage in 1999. Sanders bled to death while waiting for help to arrive.
Thursday's operation began with a briefing and a short exercise at Clearwater Fire's training facility on Belcher Road.
Then the groups moved on to the workplace shooting scenario. Instructors used fireworks to simulate the sound of gunshots while small groups of medics moved through the darkened warehouse. They treated screaming "victims" and helped subdue "shooters" with the assistance of a SWAT police officer.
Jennifer Leondike, 38, a SWAT medic for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office who works for Sunstar Paramedics, said the exercise got her adrenaline pumping.
Luckily, she said, she's never had to face a workplace shooting with multiple hostages.
But, she said, "nothing other than a realistic, large-scale event for training can prepare you for it."
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.