Nashville Fire Chief William Swann spoke with GMA 3 Tuesday about the first responders who sped to The Covenant School after three students and three adult staff members were shot.
GMA 3: Joined now by director Swann from the Nashville Fire Department. And your men and women were some of the first to respond to the scene. Tell me what they encountered when they got here.
NASHVILLE FIRE CHIEF WILLIAM SWANN: Oh, absolutely. We responded along with the Metro Police Department. We have a rescue task force team. We train for these moments and we wish they never happened. But as you can see, it's something that happens all around the nation. So once the call came in, our job is a little different. Once the threat is neutralized, then our teams go inside alongside P.D., and we try to find individuals that we can pull out and begin lifesaving measures and also transport them to our local ERs…for more advanced medical treatment.
So, again, yesterday, as I reflect on just what happened and we think about how horrific it was; we had three kids that lost their lives [and] what their families are going through; [we had] the three adults [and] what they, what their families are going through; we [had] our first responders [and] what they've seen, and then [we had] the survivors, the kids and the staff that was there. This forever will be with them, the residue of this day.
Also, the community, the city, the state and the whole nation can actually feel what happened yesterday and take it personally because all of us have kids and we think about sending our kids to school to get [an] education and return home. It didn't happen yesterday.
We were just thankful that the rapid response and what was done by our local police department and then our fire department and Office of Emergency Management.
It could have been a lot worse. But if you lose one life, that's way too many. And definitely, a heart [fills] up when we think about all the victims that lost their life yesterday and their family members.
GMA 3: When you pull up to a place like this… these are little kids, young kids, the victims, 9 years old. How does that change how you interact, how you respond?
SWANN: Well, when you think about the nature of what the fire department does, and then that includes our EMS division, this is unfortunately the nature of what we do. We deal with people who are in distress and we deal with people if there's a shooting, stabbing or homicide, whatever it may be, we deal with this every day. But being in this field for 28 years, I will tell you there's nothing more gut-wrenching than responding to a child. Nothing.
That moment changes everything for you because we all can relate to the innocence of it. So, again, yesterday, we really want to focus on now that this scene is over. Again, our prayers go out to those families. And then also making sure that our responders are taken care of in mental health and just trying to make sure that the healing process begins. But it's just a scene in something that we never want to do. But it's the nature of our job and, unfortunately, in this day and time is more frequent than we want.
GMA 3: Those images of the children from yesterday: holding hands, filing out single file -- that the child with just the absolutely terrified-looking face on the school bus. You guys have to organize all of that. The logistics of safely getting them out of the school into a new, new safe place to be. How do you do that in that situation?
SWANN: Well, this is because of training. We realize that no matter what that scene is, there have to be things that take place. And all of this goes back to training. We realize that instantly, once the threat is taken care of, we have to set up a reunification center. We have to make sure that we set a place up where parents can be reconnected with their children. We have to make sure also that on the scene itself, we know we're going to be there for a while.
So a lot of logistics have to take place in this part of training. But when you step away from that moment and you get to yourself and you go home, of course we are reflecting and it becomes more personal because all of us have children, all of us have kids. And it is truly something that the whole nation can relate to, whether it's here in Nashville or it's in some other state or some other country. Again, this is just a tragic reality of where we are at in this day and time.
GMA 3: When you come home from this yesterday and when you came home, what do you say to your family?
SWANN: Well, my youngest son is still in high school and I have a grandson that lives with me that is in first grade. Just like any other parent, I'm sure when I came home, I wanted to see him. I wanted to hug him and express love. I think there's no better medicine than to hug your kids and you get a laugh and a smile for them. And unfortunately, there were individuals that were not able to do that. So alongside feeling appreciative of your family, a heart goes out to those who will not be able to do that.
GMA 3: What do you say to those parents? Because there are parents all across America watching who this is their greatest nightmare and we keep seeing it happening. How do you prepare your kids? How do you have a conversation with them about what do you do in this situation?
SWANN: I'm glad you mentioned that.
We try to teach our kids about stop, drop and roll and what to do, if you will, if you catch on fire or home safety, [it's] same way, [for] school safety. And we're very fortunate because that's one of the things that we do. We do a lot of training with the schools and they prepare for these types of incidents. What's striking here is when you look at schools, you think about the safety of, especially if it's a disaster, strong line winds or something. We know that schools are the safest place for kids to be. But when it's man-made, then it breaks our barriers.
So I think training and preparing are always essential because yesterday that training paid off. And I'm sure as this story develops, there's going to be a lot of great heroic stories from within and within that tragedy that will come out. But it's just right now, I think what is needed is just reflection on your own life and then just the thoughts that goes out to the family members of the kids and the adults that lost their life.