"School shooting drill tests cops, rescuers"

"Maureen Lett (right), an EMT for Fire Protection District 3, treats a convincingly made-up patient at Tuesday night's disaster drill at South Whidbey High School.Matt Johnson / staff photoOn Tuesday night, more than 200 people created a nightmare at South Whidbey High School.With 45 volunteer actors playing victims of a shooting and an explosion, Island County Sheriff's deputies, a SWAT team, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics walked, ran and drove into a scene that was reminiscent of both Columbine High School and a street bombing. Injured students lay in the parking lot with simulated burn and shrapnel wounds, while shooting victims screamed from inside the school. The scenario was the fourth mass disaster drill sponsored by South Whidbey's Fire Protection District 3 in as many years. Unique in the state, the drill involved personnel from every fire, medical and law enforcement agency on Whidbey Island, plus personnel from outside agencies.Intended to teach the professionals working and volunteering for these agencies how to work with huge numbers of casualties under pressure, this year's drill showed off the strengths and limitations of local emergency services.The drill started badly for the rescuers. Two EMTs who drove the first rescue vehicle to the scene at about 6:30 p.m. were gunned down in the school parking lot by a man dressed in a camouflage jumpsuit and carrying an automatic paintball machine gun. The shooter, who was played by FD 3's Darin Reid, jumped out from behind a car and fired a dozen shots into the windshield of the rescue vehicle, then shouted, You're dead!Keeping with the script of the drill, one of the EMTs lived long enough to call in law enforcement and report that an unknown number of gunmen had blown up a school bus and shot a number of students inside the school. A few minutes later, a squad of seven Island County SWAT team members swarmed into the school's Old Commons. After taking the wrong staircase and coming up against a locked fire door, the team hustled back downstairs, through the New Commons and up to the second floor, where they shot one gunman and captured another.With the shooting over, firefighters and medics got the go-ahead to drive onto school grounds. Greeting them were about 30 writhing, screaming victims of a bus explosion, a burning bus, and a burning car. Inside the school building, another dozen students lay shot.Drill coordinator Jerry Beck said it took the rescuers several minutes to organize the scene before they began treating patients. The drill was intended to teach responders to resist the urge to start treating patients willy-nilly. Even with the compressed timeline, Beck said, events moved slowly, including the SWAT team action. Responding from across the street rather than from Coupeville, it took the team more than 15 minutes to make the scene safe enough for medical and fire personnel.In real life, Beck said, the wait would be much longer.The reality is that it could take a significant amount of time, he said.Setting up a triage system was an emotional strain, even though the event was only a drill. Courtney Linclau, a South Whidbey High School student, played a bombing victim with comparatively minor injuries. But her high-pitched screams - which were the most blood-curdling during the drill - drew her more attention than her condition required.Inside the school, other students pleaded with SWAT team members for help. The team had to ignore the students and a mortally wounded sheriff's deputy as they looked for more gunmen.Throwing more wrenches into the rescue effort were several foreign exchange students. Anne Greiwe - a real exchange student - spoke only German while she played a patient. Beck said this made the medics work to diagnose her.It's something different, he said.The drill finished well ahead of its projected 10 p.m. finish time. By the end of the night, paramedics and EMTs had transported 22 patients to Whidbey General Hospital for mock treatment.Staged for about $3,500, minus personnel time, the drill will be a teaching tool for years to come. Photos and video of the event will become part of the training program for Island County fire and law enforcement agencies. Drill observers from communities such as Mount Vernon will also be able to use drill information to prepare for school violence.Participants in the drill included the Island County Sheriff's Office, Whidbey General Hospital, Fire District 3, Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, the Sheriff's Volunteers, Airlift Northwest, and the Langley and Oak Harbor police departments. "

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