Storming buildings with submachine guns is dangerous work and SWAT teams do their best to avoid casualties.
But the Simi Valley Police Department's SWAT team has added an extra precaution: a paramedic on its team.
Officer Sterling Johnson coordinates emergency medical response during SWAT operations as the team's paramedic. He is also a trained SWAT officer.
In a typical operation, paramedics are often kept out of a hot spot because of safety concerns, even if an officer, hostage or suspect has been shot or suffered other injuries.
But Johnson, as a sworn officer, can move in with his medical kit right away.
"A matter of seconds can save a person's life," he said.
The idea of a paramedic on the SWAT team did not evolve without opposition.
Ambulance companies and others in the medical community didn't like the idea of police officers doubling as paramedics. Other critics have raised concerns about liability.
But Simi Valley city officials signed off on the plan two years ago. And Johnson works part time for a local ambulance company to keep his skills current.
Medical care administered by paramedics must be supervised by a doctor, so the Simi Valley police SWAT team also has lined up an emergency room physician to work with its officers.
Charles Drehsen, a 57-year-old doctor with Simi Valley Adventist Hospital, is always on call for SWAT operations.
Unlike Johnson, Drehsen is not expected to assist in arrests of armed felons. But he likes to train with the team nonetheless.
"I'm more used to treating gunshot wounds than inflicting them," Drehsen said while joining team members at the firing range. "But this kind of training is fun for me."
Together, Johnson and Drehsen have established such an effective emergency medical response during SWAT operations that it has caught the attention of Ventura County's other SWAT teams. Now, some of the others are considering following suit.
Cmdr. John Crombach, head of the Oxnard SWAT team, has his eye on two Oxnard officers who also happen to be trained as paramedics. And Capt. Bill Boyd, the sheriff's SWAT leader, notes that the Sheriff's Department has two paramedics that work with its Air Search and Rescue team.
So far, neither team has incorporated paramedics into their teams yet.
"It just makes sense," said Johnson, while sorting through his medical bag during a recent SWAT training exercise. "I think very soon just about every team will have one."