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First responders participate in active shooter training

By Joseph Slacian

Emergency responders from around the area spent part of the morning training for a scenario they, and the rest of the community, hope they never have to do in real life.

Personnel from the Wabash Police Department, Wabash Fire Department and Wabash County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with Parkview Healthcare and Lutheran Helicopter, conducted an active shooter training session at Wabash High School.

Under the scenario, WPD received an emergency call at 11:03 a.m. that shots had been fired at the school. By 11:46 p.m., the incident was over. The “gunman,” portrayed by Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Baker, was dead in the basement of the high school.

Baker began the scenario on the upper level of the high school, firing several blank rounds from a rifle as he made his way to the first level. The sound of the shots echoed throughout the hallway and smoke filled the air.

As Baker entered an office on the first floor, three high school co-eds raced out of the building, screaming and crying. The trio had to make their way around a gunshot victim lying just yards away from the school’s front door, a bullet wound to the head.

The first officers arrived and made their way through the first-floor corridor and onto the second floor. They then returned to the first floor and made their way down toward the basement area.

Shortly after that, another group of police officers made their way into the building, accompanied by WFD paramedics. The paramedics began looking for victims and, with the help of police, began leading them out of the building to a triage area.

Other police began scouring the building looking for anyone in classrooms, eventually leading them out to safety.

Outside, paramedics began working on gunshot victims, prioritizing the order of treatment by the severity of the wounds. Two victims were flown from the scene via Lutheran and Samaritan helicopters, both of which landed on the front lawn of the high school.

When it was over, reporters from The Paper of Wabash County and two Fort Wayne television stations participated in two mock interviews, peppering WPD, WFD and City Schools officials with questions about the event.

In the end, officials were pleased with the exercise, which took place on the first teacher day of the 2018-19 school year.

“Our school resource officer, Sam Hipskind, had overseen this and wanted to plan for this so that, hopefully, nobody wants to think about this, but we want to be prepared if something does happen,” WCS Superintendent Jason Callahan said. “We certainly put safety as a priority for our kids and our community.”

The exercise took place on the first teacher day, he said, because officials wanted faculty and staff in the building at the time of the incident. Several students also participated in the event, serving as gunshot victims.

“It was just a good day to reinforce that school safety is our number one priority,” Callahan said, “and to be able to use our facility to help our Wabash City Police Department, sheriff’s department, fire department get better acquainted with our facility, and through our emergency procedures.”

He said officials wanted to make the situation as real as possible, even including the media in mock press conferences.

“We prepare for fire and tornadoes,” Callahan said. “This is no different. We wanted to be as real as possible.”

Capt. Matt Benson, the Wabash Police Department’s Public Information Officer, said the school system and the departments have been working on the scenario for months.
“It was probably the most realistic training scenario that we have ever been in,” Benson said. “It was great for a lot of our officers. A lot of our officers are young, new officers.

“I think it kind of puts everything into perspective in a realistic scenario like we had today.”

While the training went well, Benson said, but “there’s always room for improvement.”

During the training, several observers walked along with the participants, taking notes of how they handled the situation. Among those observing were representatives from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, as well as other SROs from around the state.

“Obviously we’re going to go through a debriefing here,” Benson said. “We learn every day, and we learned something today on what we should probably do next time.”

He said that while they have been preparing for the scenario for several months, the actions taken during the event are impromptu.

“We’re basically told, this is the dispatch you’re going to get, you need to respond to it,” Benson said. “That’s exactly what happened. Dispatch came over the radio -- initially that we were having a training session so that anyone listening to that radio traffic wouldn’t be alarmed – but then we responded just as how we would respond if we were on duty this afternoon.”

Asked what their typical response is, Benson said, “the short, quick, easy version is, if you are by yourself, you respond by yourself. You go in to try to eliminate the threat and to save lives.”

Although this was a simulation, the possibility of it being a reality could be seen in the mock press conference, as both Benson and WFD Chief Barry Stroup became choked up when announcing that, up to that point, the lone fatality among the victims was a Wabash Police officer.

“You never want those words to have to come out of your mouth,” Benson said. “When we first walked in and (the officer’s body) is the very first thing you see … that’s a mindset that we’ve been working on. In these scenarios, when you are responding to these situations that you have to go by everybody that’s injured to stop that threat.

“That’s a very tough thing to get over as a first responder, because we’re trained to stop and help everybody. Even as one of own police officers (are injured), we’re not allowed to stop.”

Hipskind, who has been an SRO for about six years, both fulltime and partime, has witnessed similar training at other school districts around the state.

“School shootings have obviously been at the forefront of school safety discussions,” he said. “So, we started working on a plan years and years ago. When I came back in fulltime in March, that was the first thing I said, ‘we’re doing something.’”

He, along with Stroup and WPD Chief Matt Bruss, have been working on the event since then.

“We talked about doing it in the summertime, but we wanted the teachers here because they are an integral part of our safety plan as well,” Hipskind said.

Posted on 2018 Aug 07