'Fire extinguishers are an effective way to stop school shooters,' says public relations specialist

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s executive vice president in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Well, that’s not entirely true, at least according to public relations and media relations specialist Jim Shults, the Manager of Shults Media Relations, LLC.

In a recent press release Shults argues that a dry, chemical fire extinguisher can be used to thwart an armed attacker, specifically a school shooter.

“An everyday 5-pound dry powder fire extinguisher will shoot a high-speed stream of attacker slowing or stopping (depending on how close) thick powder for 12-20 feet that will cover an area many times larger than pepper spray and you need not be a good shot as with a firearm that could send misses through classroom walls,” explains Shults, who’s lectured on the subject since the 1980s.

“The effect is it can flat out stop an attacker as he tries to clean his face and clear breathing of a massive contamination of powder and the diversion may help force him to change his murderous plans and maybe give defenders the time and opportunity to attack him,” he continues. “And there is nearly no if any collateral harm to people or damage to the building.”

“School administrators and staff must actively plan for and aggressively defend the children in their charge and the fire extinguisher and some simple old fashion barricading can help,” he concludes.

Shults also points out that fire extinguishers are cheap, relatively ubiquitous (most schools already have them in case of fires) and easy to handle. He postulates that things might have ended differently at Sandy Hook were one of the staff members able to blast the killer in the face with a fire extinguisher.

While some may be dismissive of Shults’ idea, there are those who endorse this way of thinking. In fact, following Newtown, the Obama administration acknowledged that using fire extinguishers may be one way to stop an active shooter should escape or concealment be impossible.

“If neither running nor hiding is a safe option, as a last resort when confronted by the shooter, adults in immediate danger should consider trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by using aggressive force and items in their environment, such as fire extinguishers, and chairs,” the administration said in a report titled, “Guide for Developing High Quality Emergency Operating Plans.”

“The possibility of an active shooter situation is not justification for the presence of firearms on campus in the hands of any personnel other than law enforcement officers,” the report continued.

Of course, the White House has since provided funding for armed School Resource Officers, so perhaps, the administration has had a change of heart to a degree. In October it announced that under the Community Oriented Policing Services about $45 million would be used this year to put 356 additional armed guards in schools across the country for a total of $125 million in grants to be dispersed over the next three years, as CNN reported.

All that said, I wanted to reach out to Mr. Shults to ask him a little more about his idea and how it could be practically implemented across the country. Below is our brief Q&A:

S.H. Blannelberry: Should using fire extinguishers as a form of defense against a school shooter be a first resort or something that is done if there is not an armed guard, student resource officer or staff member around? In other words, are you suggesting that schools should use fire extinguishers over firearms in defending their students and staff or is this just one part of a more comprehensive strategy to school safety?

Jim Shults: Any time they have a chance for any weaponry against an attacker. Could be coordinated but how quickly can that happen when an attacker(s) bursts into a class room and or other classes hear the shooting—you have about 30 seconds.

S.H. Blannelberry: You’ve said that you’ve lectured on this subject before, starting in the 1980s actually, why do you think it hasn’t caught on?

Jim Shults: Not sexy enough for cops to adopt, seriously! They wanted the other stuff like special sniping, counter sniping and other forms of specialized tactics. Still true today. As one big city SWAT guy I trained who then later became the chief of Police – “Most cops and especially SWAT teams just don’t know what they don’t know.”

S.H. Blannelberry: You’ve developed certain tactics on how best to deploy a fire extinguisher during an emergency, particularly against an armed gunman, how much time and training is required before one becomes proficient in using one in defense of oneself and others? From your experience, is it more or less time that it takes for someone to learn how to safely handle and use a firearm under similar conditions?

Jim Shults: As far as training time, how long does it take to train a person to throw a glass of water in a person’s face—pretty quick! About a dry powder extinguisher and operation: Simply know how to remove the safety(s) and press the lever while aiming the nozzle (if hose) or the exit point (no hose—or cut the hose to the point where it does not bend—still works on fires). Correct employment is something the fire dept. could easily demonstrate to school teachers in a group to both fight a fire or people (little difference). Training how to employ a dry powder extinguisher takes about one minute for even a child to learn. Learning how to just correctly hold a handgun properly takes over an hour many times, then there is deployment, aiming, trigger control, reacquire the sights, follow through, follow up and control, safety, reloading etc.,–just watch the real cop shows and you will see “trained” police spraying shots all over hell at ranges under ten feet and missing—those bullets are going somewhere. Try that training with a 30-year old teacher (for example) who may not even like guns or a little kid.

But, everyone “likes” a fire extinguisher and even little kids can work them—no recoil or noise either. By the way, and for the record, I am a ultra-strong second Amendment supporter, NRA benefactor Member, NRA Master level competitor, and Distinguished Rifleman; certainly not an anti-gun (any gun) guy by any stretch, but a realist too.

S.H. Blannelberry: What do you suggest we, as a society, do moving forward to maximize school safety?

Jim Shults: Put a 5-10 pound dry powder fire extinguisher in each room (because guns in every room will never ever happen regardless). Then if possible a highly-trained AND BRAVE in school police or security officer (excellent marksman, not just average cop qualified shooter) and maybe a couple of trained and brave administrators with firearms and you might have a pretty reasonable force for good because it is the job of the teachers to stay put and defend their room full of kids, not venture out in the hall hunting for the attackers while leaving the kids behind.


Big thanks to Mr. Shults for taking the time to answer some questions.

What are your thoughts?  Should school districts start to look at fire extinguishers as a way to stop armed gunmen?  

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