Grandview Heights police officers and firefighter/medics took part in a training session last Thursday, April 4, that presented a simulation of a nightmare situation they never want to face.
Police officers from all three shifts and the fire crew that was on duty that day responded to the simulated report of two white supremacists invading Grandview Heights High School, shooting numerous people and setting off an explosive device in the cafeteria.
Additional firefighters were called into duty to cover for the fire crew in case a real fire or medic call came in during the training session.
The high school was available for the exercise because the Grandview Heights City School District was on spring break last week.
The session was coordinated by Franklin County Emergency Management & Homeland Security.
Along with Grandview, the Westerville police and fire departments also participated in that city by responding to a simultaneous hazardous-material incident in which a stolen truck carrying chlorine crashed into a fence near a school, Grandview Police Chief David Wood said.
The county coordinated the exercise to test information-sharing and response plans among multiple jurisdictions and agencies and the Franklin County Joint Emergency Operation Center.
To help his officers prepare for the exercise, Wood sent many of them to training sessions on how to respond to a situation with an active shooter in a school, while others trained at the Ohio Police Academy.
"They didn't know why I was sending them, but it was to help prepare them for this exercise," he said.
The simulation began with a 911 call about shooters in the school, Wood said. When officers arrived, they found a number of injured people lying in a hallway and quickly had to determine where the suspects were. In this case, they were in the cafeteria, having set off the explosives.
"I'm very proud of the job our guys did," he said. "They made quick decisions within 10 or 15 seconds in a chaotic situation," which included a fire alarm that was tripped by the smoke from 12-gauge shotguns the shooters were to have used.
"We didn't do everything perfect, but what you want to do is learn from your mistakes so you can do it better" if a real situation arises, Wood said.
Officers from all three shifts were able to participate, as the exercise for police was conducted three times, he said.
As they entered the building and discovered the situation, officers notified the fire department.
"For us, the goal of this exercise was to test ourselves in a multicasualty incident," said Dan Fancey, fire captain/safety officer. "We need to be able to do triage when we have many victims. We do the same thing on our regular runs, but most of them involve only one or two patients at a time."
In the simulation, firefighter/medics found 21 victims, including the two suspects who had been shot by police, and had to decide who needed help first, Fancey said.
"We had to decide who needed to be transported to the hospital first and who we could treat at the scene," he said.
Grandview police "shot" the suspects using Airsoft guns and plastic pellets that are a little bigger than BBs, Wood said.
"They sting when they hit you," he said. "My two sons portrayed the suspects and I made sure they were dressed in layers."
Like the police officers, firefighters had to deal with an scene of chaos they had never experienced before, even if it was only a simulation, Fancey said.
And as with the police, "there are areas where we can improve," he said. "One of those is our communication with the police department."
An outside consulting firm was on scene and will evaluate the performance of all the agencies that participated in the training exercise, Fancey said.
Other participants in the drill included the Chemical Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council, American Red Cross, Central Ohio Trauma Systems, HandsOn Ohio, Central Ohio Transit Authority, Central Ohio Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, Franklin County Public Health, and the Franklin County Homeland Security and Justice programs.