Jan 7, 2013 9:18 AM by Samantha Ptashkin
TUCSON- January 8, 2011. A tragic day Captain Byron Gwaltney of the Pima County Sheriff's Department remembers all too well.
"We had a large crime scene, we knew we had a mass casualty incident," Gwaltney says.
He was the first senior command officer on scene at the Safeway on Ina and Oracle, after a gunman opened fire in the parking lot, killing six and wounding former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
When Gwaltney looks back, he says there is one big lesson the Pima County Sheriff's Department learned that day. "That it's about relationship building and when you need a friend, it's too late to make one," Gwaltney says.
He says without the teamwork across several law enforcement agencies on January 8, things could have been a lot worse. It's a message he now shares with other law enforcement agencies. "We've actually presented our response to the January 8 shooting around the country," Gwaltney says.
Northwest Fire Captain Adam Goldberg was also on scene that day. Two years later he also says one of the most important things he learned that day was building relationships.
He says since then, his department has put an even greater emphasis on working with other law enforcement agencies. "That way all of the agencies are prepared, we come in, we do the job, we accomplish the things to the best of our abilities and we move forward," Goldberg says.
Given the threats our society now faces, it's not just the first responders that need to be ready and work together.
"Those first few seconds are very critical and it's unlikely a police officer or deputy sheriff will be there in the first few seconds," Gwaltney says.
PCSD is putting together a training program for businesses and other organizations to teach people what to do before first responders arrive. "How they can respond appropriately, how they can provide for their own safety," Gwaltney says.