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April 16, 2012
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Live-fire training in teams

Let's start practicing team gunfighting skills to magnify our effectiveness when deadly force is required

I think we probably all agree that traditional live-fire firearms training — firing from a static position at a static paper target — has little resemblance to a gunfight.  Still, most firearms training programs use such static marksmanship practice as the primary component of their curriculum.  Further, this firearms practice is invariably an individual exercise, each officer working to improve their own personal marksmanship skills.

I submit that while the enhancement of an individual officer’s marksmanship skills is always a worthwhile exercise, firing those same rounds of increasingly expensive ammunition can be better “spent.”  As much as possible, shift your training sessions to ones that focus more on practical gunfighting tactics than mere target practice.

With the advent of Rapid Deployment/Active Shooter Response training, we have finally learned to assemble teams of officers during critical incidents.  Looking back to my street years, I can recall many serious calls where a number of officers gathered at a scene.  But, instead of organizing a cohesive team under the direction of a single leader, each of those officers generally took whatever individual action they thought best.  We always managed to get the job done, but an organized and properly led team of officers is many times more effective than the sum of their individual actions.  So, let’s start practicing team gunfighting skills to magnify our effectiveness when deadly force is required.

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The Four Fs
Break up your students during a range session into two-officer teams.  Have them engage a bank of targets, requiring one to reload on a given command while the other officer in the team continues to cover or engage the targets.  The reloading officer should verbalize their action by calling out “loading,” so the other officer knows they must not take their weapon out of action at that moment.

Have a two-officer team advance downrange from cover point to cover point.  One officer will cover or engage a downrange target while the other officer advances to the next available cover point.  This fire & maneuver exercise allows the officers to practice the four “F’s” of defeating a deadly threat — Find ‘em, Fix ‘em, Flank ‘em and Finish ‘em. 

If you have safety concerns about one officer advancing downrange ahead of their leapfrogging partner, you can have them “advance” laterally across the firing line.  If you have an amenable firing range, repeat this exercise with two teams of paired officers moving and engaging more distant targets with their patrol rifles.

Another excellent live-fire exercise is a downed-officer rescue along the lines of Portland PD’s technique.  If you have a drag dummy, use it, but generally this exercise is performed with one officer in the “down” position on the firing line.  One or more officers will move to the downed officer and conduct the drag to safety while one or more other officers will engage downrange target(s) with live fire.  The firing officers can engage from fixed cover positions off to the side of the dragging operation or they can move downrange with the rescue team and then move back uprange with the dragging team while directing live fire at the downrange threat. 

If you have ballistic shields, incorporate them into the exercise for both the shooting/cover officer and the rescue team.  Then, you switch out your down officer and repeat several times to perfect the team’s movements — smooth is fast.

Always score the targets in these exercises.  Force the cover officers to concentrate on their marksmanship and deliver centered hits, not just “throw” rounds downrange hoping to scare off their adversaries.  I have seen this exercise taught with a single officer who attempts to drag the downed officer with one hand while simultaneously directing live fire at a downrange target. 

Such a solo rescue is unlikely to succeed on the street and makes me pretty nervous on the training range, performing a high-stress physical drag while firing a live weapon is an invitation to disaster.  If you really want to attempt such a training move, do it with Simunition weapons.

Using Long Guns
Assemble a four-officer Rapid Deployment contact team on the live fire range, using patrol rifles.  Using long guns for this exercise helps the officers stay more aware of where their muzzles are pointed while moving as a team.  Hopefully, your officers have already done this exercise using Simunition weapons when they learned or refreshed their Rapid Deployment tactics, but doing it live fire takes their confidence to a whole new level. 

The instructor must closely supervise the team as it moves at ONE-HALF SPEED in a Diamond or “T” formation, locked and loaded with live rounds.  As the team slowly moves in formation, the instructor can walk them in a square, calling left or right turns.  At appropriate times the instructor can direct one team member to engage a downrange target. 

For example, the instructor can call “Action Right — Green,” which will require the right-quadrant officer to engage the green target with two rounds. 

This exercise must be done slowly and carefully, emphasizing muzzle safety awareness and the need for ONLY the appropriate officer to engage the called threat in their area of responsibility.  The power of such a team live-fire exercise will pay off handsomely should your officers respond to an actual active shooter event.  Having already moved as a fully locked and loaded team, their confidence and effectiveness in the real deal will be greatly enhanced.

Use your imagination, proceed slowly and carefully, and you can develop powerful training sessions that are both safe and effective, even though you will be stretching the normal limits of range safety.  A committee of training officers should play Devil’s Advocate on any new courses of fire to ensure they are realistic, practical and performed within acceptable safety limits. 

The goal of a firearms training program should be to continuously develop the effective gunfighting skills of your officers.  Training them to gunfight in teams is the next logical step in our training evolution.

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn



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