Singer killed, mass murder, an alligator: Orlando's horrific week.
The only thing we don't have in this county are alligators. Though it's almost blasphemous and hair-raising to utter, the others are eerily plausible in our little southern county.
It's today's world. Reality 2016.
This county's emergency response leaders were already hyper-vigilant to protect us, now they say they are on overload.
Orlando's first responders were put to the test last week. Three tragedies in three days. In interviews, the look in their eyes told the story of facing the lunatic and then seeing rooms full of 49 innocent people slaughtered in a gay bar by an American-born man who pledged allegiance to ISIS. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation's worst terror attack since 9/11, authorities said.
A 22-year-old rising star of "The Voice" shot at point-blank range by a deranged so-called "fan."
And little 2-year-old Lane Graves snatched by an alligator while on vacation at Orlando's Disney's Floridian Resort and Spa last Thursday.
Wilson County is not invulnerable
"Any one of these is a tragedy," said Fire Department of Mt. Juliet Chief Jamie Luffman. "They had triple tragedies. In my position, my heart goes out to the victims, the family and friends first and foremost."
Luffman said shootings are rare in Wilson County, "and we don't have alligators."
"Then my reflection turns toward the responders," he said. "We see a lot of things, but on the most part around here, there are happy endings. There are some sad endings. Though we've seen so many traumas in our work, it's nothing like the mass tragedy at that nightclub. When I see interviews with the first responders I hear the inflection in their voices and the way they look. They were changed."
No one agency big enough
Luffman meets every quarter with every other county emergency response leader to talk about pooling their resources in the case of a mass incident.
"No, we don't have huge nightclubs, but we do have big movie theatres, fairs, bazaars and other populated events," Luffman said. "If something of that magnitude should happen in Mt. Juliet, no one agency would be able to mitigate it. We have to pool our resources."
Luffman said they have plenty of response equipment.
"But, our No. 1 resource will be manpower," he said. "Each has specialties like search and rescue, water rescue, fire training, high rope rescue and medical expertise.
"During the workshops, the leaders review what's happened in the nation, talk about the variables and scale it down to a Wilson County scenario."
'Highly aware' it could happen here
Lebanon Fire Department Chief Chris Dowell is highly aware Wilson County and Lebanon are not invulnerable.
"Lebanon Fire trains in conjunction with the Lebanon Police Department and Wilson Emergency Management Agency twice a year on different situations that may arise from mass shootings," he said. "We have medical guys/gals working daily and training daily should an incident like such arise."
He noted there have been two active shooter trainings recently. One was a mock school shooting at Elzie Patton Elementary in Mt. Juliet. The other was at the Providence MarketPlace and theatre, also in Mt. Juliet.
Both Luffman and Dowell said the scenarios went well and much was learned. It was no easy task to put together the training scenarios, but well worth the time and effort, especially knowing there have been mass shootings in theatres and at shopping malls, they said.
"These intense training exercises are a team effort, which we will need if we ever have an incident like Orlando here in our midst," Luffman said. "It's multi-departmental and an effort to be prepared if bad things happen."
Nightclub shooting next scenario
He said their next group leader meeting is next month and top of the agenda will be discussing the nightclub shootings and how to relate that to Wilson County. Each chief has a huge notebook on strategies and protocol and each has a direct line to the other. They go to classes to keep up on the latest maneuvers and communication upgrades.
Luffman said politics, theology and ideology play no part in responders' actions.
"When that first bullet goes by or into an unsuspecting innocent person, anything political or personal goes out the window," he said. "Our only motivation is to help people in need. We don't care. It's not something we carry with us. We don't have an agenda."
Message to citizens
"We want the citizens of, and visitors to, Wilson County to know our first responders are very cognizant of the world we live in," Luffman said. "We know people do harm in the name of ideology and personal beliefs. We will do everything we can with the resources we have. We also know that law enforcement and fire officials are potential targets as well. We are talked about in the chatter. Our sole purpose is to provide aid and comfort. We have excellent support from city administrators and elected officials."
Luffman said he hopes he never has to pool county resources on a grand scale.
"But we can if we have to," he said. "We are not invulnerable and are aware the potential exists. If we weren't, it would be a gross dereliction of duty."
Luffman noted if their resources were maxed in the event of a mass incident, each agency's chief has contacts and a network of backup outside the county.
"I can't remember a time in our recent history when there's been such excellent leadership in emergency service," Luffman noted. "This is a really good time for emergency services in Wilson County, and we are ever diligent."