You probably know about the police SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Team. But do you know that a special team from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department responds to every SWAT incident? It is the Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) Team, a unit of 18 specially trained firefighter paramedics who provide medical support during SWAT operations.
There are a variety of incidents that might call for STAR Team members to be deployed. Some of them are planned, as when there’s a major event in the city or the region. At times like that, law enforcement agencies and fire-rescue prepare plans and work together to provide for everyone’s safety at the event. The STAR Team is part of that effort. Currently, SDFD and the United States Coast Guard are working on an MOU that would also have STAR Medics respond with the Coast Guard to provide medical attention if there’s a need off the coast.
Their primary purpose is to be on hand for the SWAT Team. Two STAR team members are on scene whenever SWAT is needed, and their number one priority is to tend to the emergency medical needs of SWAT Team members. At least one additional ambulance is dispatched to SWAT incidents to care for and transport victims or suspects, if needed.
To become a tactical paramedic, the STAR Team candidates all pass a physical fitness exam and structured interview. Once they are selected, they then have to successfully complete the San Diego Police Department SWAT Academy and pass a course in tactical combat casualty care created by the Department of Defense. Candidates also participate in deep water emergency survival training from the Coast Guard and Navy. All team members take annual refresher courses, and train with the police SWAT Team.
The STAR Team members have special uniforms, combat helmets, gas masks, and body armor as well as a specially designated ambulance that members take when they are called out. Each member has a bag of medical equipment and supplies that they carry on their person.
The SDFD STAR Team is perhaps the least known, but one of the most highly trained, specialty units in the Department.