AIRWAY HEIGHTS – While the students at Sunset Elementary are on spring break, police officers, firefighters and actors were taking to the hallways to train for an active shooter response.
On Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., actors and teenaged students planned to act out the scenario of an active gunman inside the school. They would be using “blanks” instead of bullets, but the cartridges still pack gunpowder, flashes and explosions. Organizers said it’s all about making the drill look, smell and sound like an actual school shooting.
“I think getting as realistic as we can possibly be will get the blood flowing,” Dept. Chief Don Malone of the Airway Heights Fire Dept. said.
“Plus we try to create some stress there for the officer,” Airway Heights Police Sgt. Robert Swan said. “Like using the fire alarms there at the school. And the actors will come out, wanting the officers to help them, and just trying to make it kind of chaotic for the officer.”
The response for an active shooter has changed since Columbine. Now, paramedics are trained to go inside the building to help victims while police secure space for them.
“We were trained to go directly to the threat,” Swan said. “But we discovered by going directly to the threat, you’re not providing medical aid to people that need it.”
“It was much harder for us to sit back knowing there’s victims inside of an incident like this and waiting, waiting, waiting until we could actually go inside an incident,” Malone said. “I think from our standpoint, the more immediate we can get in there and help the victims is really what we’re looking to do.”
Airway Heights police and firefighters have participated in similar drills, but this is the first one they have hosted one. Organizers hope to make the training a biannual event.