Officers detain a mock suspect during an active shooter drill at Toledo First Baptist Church on Saturday as part of an exercise involving law enforcement, fire and EMS from around the county. Such drills, which are part of a national trend, are intended to instill modern methods of responding to a shooter by quickly moving in to eliminate the suspects and extricate the wounded rather than surround the building and wait for specialists as had been procedure before.
It was the kind of training you hope you never have to use.
Telling a mother her bleeding daughter is not your priority just yet, because you still need to find the bad guy. Carrying broken bodies out of what normally serves as a place of worship. Searching for a gunman among many unfamiliar rooms and hallways when every second counts.
These were the tasks laid before local law enforcement and emergency responders Saturday during an active shooter drill at Toledo First Baptist Church, as such entities across the country are re-training themselves to respond to mass casualty events.
Since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, schools of thought have shifted from waiting for SWAT to respond and clear the building, to immediate entry of law enforcement to neutralize the threat, while clearing a path for medical aid to enter and respond.
As such, new training is required for emergency services, and an opportunity was seized by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to organize and lead such a drill for local entities.
“This kind of thing’s out there,” said Deputy Kevin Anderson, one of the leaders during the event. “It’s real unfortunately.”
Anderson was one of multiple officers working with event organizer Deputy Matthew Schlecht, who was able to bring together the Sheriff’s Office with the Centralia Police Department, Toledo Police Department, and fire districts from Toledo, Winlock, Napavine, Vader and Ryderwood for the exercise. Schlecht also brought together dozens of volunteers to acts as victims, and sometime suspects, from the local community, as well as the Sheriff’s Office’s Explorer program.
During the drill, Schlecht said safety was to be the number one priority, and that he didn’t want “anyone getting hurt, period.” Specific safety protocols were in place in the event of an injury, while participants were screened carefully to ensure no actual weapons were allowed into the church.
Throughout the day, a number of different scenarios were played out, including a response to armed anti-religious fanatics terrorizing the congregation, an estranged and armed ex-husband violating a restraining order, a pair of fleeing murder suspects taking hostages, and armed gunmen simply entering and opening fire without cause.
Mock suspects were allowed to use specially-outfitted M16s with blanks in order to add to the realism, while Airsoft guns were used by officers to take out the suspects. The shooting portion of the exercise was typically over in less than a minute, while the bulk of the time was spent locating and triaging victims as officers escorted medical aid to secure portions of the building. When possible, costume blood and wounds were applied to mock victims, to add to the realism of the exercise.
During the training, leaders among the different organizations involved said they came to realize high the level of communication required to successfully respond to a mass shooting, with Fire District 2 Chief Grant Wiltbank stating it was an “eye-opener” to see how valuable timely and thorough communication would be during such a response.
It was the consensus, at the end of the day, that such drills should be repeated for the benefit of those involved, while Schlecht said he was uncertain if he would be the one to organize another drill.
In a statement released Monday, Sheriff’s Commander Steve Aust stated, “We hope we never have to respond to a real active shooter incident in Lewis County. However, having this training helps law enforcement and fire services work together to act in the quickest and most effective manner, should an active shooter situation ever occur in our community”
Teams of medical responders were sent throughout the building to transport victims, using a variety of carrying tools to safely take them to awaiting triage stations.
Lewis County Sheriff’s Deputy Sam Schouten (left) and Centralia Police Officer Dave Pisano (right) prepare to breach a door while clearing the building of potential suspects.
Outside, paramedics set up a triage station to quickly receive and process mock victims, some of which had descriptions such as uncontrolled bleeding, shallow breathing, unresponsive to commands and, in some cases, no vital signs.
Volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (foreground) were available to prepare and serve lunch to responders and volunteers, as well as provide chaplains to help all involved with the emotional toll such drills may take.