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First responders train for active shooter at school

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office deputies Steven Dombrowski and Jerry Talbot take down deputy James Allen, who played the part of the active shooter at a drill conducted on Thursday at Lincolnton Middle School.

MICHELLE T. BERNARD
Staff Writer

Lincoln County first responders took part in an active shooter training exercise at Lincolnton Middle School on Thursday. This training was conducted to evaluate the active shooter plan for Lincoln County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). This plan has been in the works for approximately three years now, according to Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Trent Carpenter.

“We’ve been working out the basics and going to classes and seminars throughout North Carolina,” he said. “We’ve tried to take our plan and do it to the best of our abilities, which will hopefully allow for the EMS and fire to get in there quicker so that we can save more patients.”

Active shooting victims typically bleed out before help gets to them, according to Carpenter. In preparation for this type of emergency, Lincoln County EMS first responders have been sent to tactical combat casualty care classes to receive training. The firefighters received a condensed version of the class.

“There’s a different mindset when you’re dealing with an active shooter incident than you would in a typical EMS trauma call,” Carpenter said. “This is more of a combat situation and things are done a little bit different and at a quicker pace.”

The Lincoln County Schools system was involved in the planning of the exercise.

“Our first priority was to get the schools done but when we were doing this with the schools we had to make sure our plan was very dynamic and flexible so that we could use it in any active shooting be it in an industrial complex, a church, a ball park or any other situation like this,” Carpenter said.

Members of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, along with Lincoln County EMS and firefighters from departments both in the city and from the western and eastern sides of the county, met early Thursday morning at a staging area for a briefing. Once the designated active shooter, played by Deputy James Allen, entered the school through the front office where he “shot” all of the individuals in the office, a call was made to Lincoln County Communications and law enforcement was dispatched from the staging area.

“We released them on a timed response to simulate actual response time,” Carpenter said. “That way we can see how it’s going to work.”

By the time law enforcement arrived on the scene and entered the school, numerous students and staff members were injured. Throughout the exercise, Allen and the deputies were armed with guns loaded with rubber BBs, but the only ones who actually were hit were the deputies, who wore protective vests and glasses. For safety, everyone involved in the drill wore safety glasses. There were no injuries during the training.

“In the past, in incidents throughout the country, typically EMS and fire departments have staged and not went in until law enforcement cleared the entire facility,” Carpenter said. “That’s not what happens now. When law enforcement starts engaging the combatant, we have other law enforcement officers guiding EMS through the facility to do a rapid triage and treatment. We’re going to try to save more lives but are we going to be able to save everybody? Unfortunately, no.”

Pursuant to the plan, once emergency medical services arrived, first responders were escorted into the school by deputies, to begin triage. Once the deputies cleared the school, all first responders located and carried injured victims out either to waiting ambulances or to the triage area set up outside.

Throughout the exercise, the first responders were evaluated by individuals within their particular agencies and by Specialized Consulting Services out of Shelby, which was contracted to help with the planning and training in Lincoln County. Specialized Consulting Services helps companies and organizations prepare for emergencies such as active shooter situations. They also do training in hazardous material emergencies, earthquakes or any event that may have a high attendance. What was observed, good and bad, will be analyzed and the plan will be amended or adjusted as needed and more training will take place at a later date.

Many of Lincoln County Schools principals, assistant principals and administrative staff role played as teachers and staff for the training. Blake Click, 15, who lives in Dallas, used this training as an opportunity to work toward his Eagle Scout award. He provided 30 young people to play victims and a make-up crew to create realistic-looking wounds.

“A friend of mine did this for the Gaston County first responders and I participated in that project as a victim,” Click said. “Later on he asked me if I wanted to help coordinate this one for Lincoln County and I told him yes.”

The new Lincoln County Schools superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow was at the exercise and was pleased with the opportunity to practice safety processes and protocols. Assistant superintendent Dr. Aaron Allen has been involved in the plan for the last couple of months.

“Ten different agencies in the county are working together to pull this off,” Allen said. “It’s a good reflection of what our crisis response would look like as a school system but also what other agencies throughout the county do.”

The exercise was done at Lincolnton Middle School due to its central location but the plan, as it pertains to schools, is intended to work at any school in the county.

“The way society is going today we shouldn’t say ‘if it happens’ we should prepare for ‘when it happens,’” Carpenter said. “We’ve been very fortunate it hasn’t happened in Lincoln County, but we want to be prepared.”

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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