Tuesday, April 23, 2024

'Spartans protecting Spartans': First responders share their experiences on Feb. 13

February 13, 2024
East Lansing Fire Department Captain James Lidiski poses next to a firetruck at the Department's on-campus station on Friday, Feb.2, 2023. Lidiski was a first responder on the night of the Feb. 13, 2023 shooting on MSU's campus, and helped block roadways and search for victims.
East Lansing Fire Department Captain James Lidiski poses next to a firetruck at the Department's on-campus station on Friday, Feb.2, 2023. Lidiski was a first responder on the night of the Feb. 13, 2023 shooting on MSU's campus, and helped block roadways and search for victims. —
Photo by Jack Armstrong | The State News

MSU Chief of Police Chris Rozman was at his home the night of Feb. 13  when he first got word that there was a potential active shooter on campus.  

He quickly went to look at his phone to track the calls that were coming into the station in live time. Once he saw the large amount coming in, he instantly knew that it wasn’t a false alarm; it was real. 

“I let my wife finish putting the kids to bed and I jumped in my car and started heading into work, as did so many other officers and administrators,” he said

Rozman headed to the unified command post that MSUPD had established on West Circle and Abbot where he and his colleagues could coordinate a response effort. There, he was tasked with being responsible for media relations efforts to keep the public updated on the situation at hand

“At the time it was so crucial for us to get messaging out to the community, not just that there’s been a shooting or active violence and to shelter in place, but additional information in terms of what exactly is occurring, is there a description of the suspect, and then additional actions that people should take,” Rozman said. 

Rozman said that from previous crisis communication training, he knew there would be lots of misinformation going around. He decided early on to take the approach of making sure that they made it clear that people should be going to them for accurate information on the situation

Chief Chris Rozman, Courtesy of MSU Police Department.

“Because we couldn’t address what the misinformation was at the time, there was just so much out there, we just really wanted to be the voice of the incident, whether that was on social media, by an issued alert, in front of the cameras, we knew that it was important to have unified messaging to our community,” he said

Rozman, who attended MSU himself, has been with MSU Police and Public Safety since 2001

He said that he didn’t anticipate spending his entire career at MSU but said that he is proud of not only the university, but the police department as well, even turning down an opportunity to work in federal law enforcement to continue working for the university

“Our police department has a pretty storied history protecting our community,” he said.

Rozman has responded to multiple critical incidents throughout his career, both on- and off-campus, but nothing that holds the same magnitude as what happened on Feb. 13, he said. 

Despite this, his department has trained for years to respond to ‘low frequency, high risk events’ such as an active shooter situation

“There are things that you’re probably not going to see, you may not see, but if you do they are very critical incidents,” he said. “Those are the ones we train a lot on because we don’t get the experience in real life.” 

Rozman said that what happened on Feb. 13 didn’t change the way he approached or felt about his job, but that it reinforced the importance of the job he has.

“In this case it really comes to light why we are experts in the area of public safety and security and why we do certain things,” he said

East Lansing Fire Department Response

East Lansing Fire Department Captain James Ladiski said that he had a similar reaction to Rozman when he first heard of a potential active shooter situation on Feb. 13. 

Like Rozman, Ladiski said that the volume of calls coming in was a telltale sign that this was the real deal

Typically used to getting false gunfire reports from fireworks or firecrackers, Ladiski braced himself for what was to come as he pulled out of the station and made his way to Berkey Hall. 

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The first thing Ladiski and his team did when they arrived on scene was what they call a ‘stage’ where they will park the firetruck a small distance from the scene and block the roadway so that the police can go in and secure the scene. 

Ladiski said that a couple other units had already made it to the scene about a minute before his truck did and that they had already been inside, working on pulling out victims

Once they finished staging, Ladiski and his team went inside Berkey Hall with the police and coordinated a walk around to search for more victims.

“At that point we had no idea if the shooter was still in the building or what was going on, so there were several roles taken by several people that night,” he said

After focusing on victim extraction, Ladiski said that his team continued to stage until the shooter was no longer at large, remaining in their active violence incident or AVI gear which consists of bulletproof vests and helmets

Ladiski said that even though the fire department has been training for an event like this for years, the night of Feb. 13 brought a reality to that training

East Lansing Fire Department Captain James Lidiski poses next to a firetruck at the Department's on-campus station on Friday, Feb.2, 2023. Lidiski was a first responder on the night of the Feb. 13, 2023 shooting on MSU's campus, and helped block roadways and search for victims.

“In the back of our minds we always think ‘it’s not if, it’s when, when is this going to happen’ and our ‘when’ happened last year at this time,” he said.

Down the road, medical professionals were ready to help

E.W. Sparrow Hospital President Dr. Denny Martin was in a business meeting when he first got a message about what was happening.

At first, he said that his mind went to a swatting incident that had happened a week prior at Okemos High School, casting doubts in his mind about the situation

Shortly after, he received a text from his director of public safety saying that it was verified that there had been a shooting

Martin quickly went to Sparrow, not knowing how many victims there were, but knowing that as the leader of the hospital he needed to make sure that his staff had everything they needed to take care of the incoming patients.

Soon he learned that the shooter was still at large, shifting his focus towards making sure that the hospital was safe so that his staff could focus on tending to those who were injured

Martin said that following Feb. 13, he now lives in a state of constant readiness, the shooting having set in a reality that this could happen anywhere at any time. 

“I think we all have that fear that the next page or alert we get for a trauma is going to be, you know, multiple trauma and a potential mass casualty,” he said.  

Responders came from far and wide

MSUPD was assisted by first responders from 72 different law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service agencies on the night of Feb. 13. 

One of these was the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, which had previously responded to a similar active violence incident at Oxford High School in 2021

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office is one of the largest in the nation, which is why Sheriff Michael Bouchard said they were well equipped to offer support that night

“We have a lot of specialty equipment  and capabilities that many agencies don’t because we’re so big,” he said

Some of the resources include the largest drone unit in the state of Michigan, a large SWAT team and helicopters, which Bouchard said he ordered as soon as he got word that their help was needed.

The department drove over an hour to help respond, knowing that having already been through a similar situation they could offer critical advice as to what resources to use and how to secure certain locations

Most of all, Bouchard said their previous experience allowed them to help the most in the area of how to deal with the fallout for an event of this kind through peer support programs and outside experts that he ended up sending MSUPD’s way.  

Bouchard said that an important takeaway from that night is to always be well-trained and prepared, as well having partnerships set up well in advance

Healing from the traumatic event

Ladiski is the lead peer support team member at East Lansing Fire Department, a team that is trained to look out for staff who might be struggling after traumatic events and to get them the resources they need

Ladiski was originally the only person trained in providing peer support but said that after Feb. 13 they have continued to develop the program and that they are focused on keeping an eye out for those who may be struggling during the one year mark. 

“Being the leader of that and helping my peers has been pretty healing for me,” Ladiski said

Martin said that, at first, he and the staff at Sparrow Hospital weren’t sure at first how to approach healing and processing what had happened but recognized that it was going to take time and a safe environment to do so. 

“We really had to make it a priority,” he said. “Getting people to say that it was okay to not be okay because I think we all get in the habit of saying ‘oh, I’m fine’ when we really might be struggling,” he said. 

Martin said that in the time following, the hospital was more understanding if people needed to be late to or miss meetings to get help

“There’s no playbook for how to respond to a mass shooting but we recognize that people were not okay …there was a significant trauma that everyone went through and it took the organization a long time to heal,” he said. 

In the days following the tragedy, Rozman said MSUPD brought in various resources to help first responders process and heal from what had happened. 

One of those resources were peer support teams similar to Ladiski’s, where other responders who have been through a similar incident could provide resources to those that needed it. 

Rozman said the department also hosted critical incident stress debriefings, where officers or responders who were there that night can get together with a critical incident therapist who will help guide them through a conversation where they can talk about their shared experience

He said that the biggest challenge in healing has been with how first responders experience trauma differently due to having to put themselves in harm's way every day, often feeling numb to what has happened until later on. 

“Our responders may be fine for a month, three months, six months until it really kind of catches up with them and impacts them on a different timeline,” Rozman said. “Also, it’s just the stigma of mental health and when you experience an incident, especially from the perspective of a first responder, you’re experiencing it in different ways.” 

Because of this, Rozman said the department has also focused on long-term healing by adding an internal health and wellness coordinator as well as adding an additional social worker to their staff.

Ladiski also talked about the stigma surrounding mental health in the first responder community and that while you need to be tactically prepared for critical incidents, you also need to be prepared for how you will get yourself back on your feet afterward

As time marks one-year since the Feb. 13 mass shooting, Rozman said that MSUPD’s main focus is to provide safety to the community as they continue to heal

He said that officers will be present at various events happening across campus so that students can mourn the events while feeling safe.

“We’re Spartans protecting Spartans,” he said.


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