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Mich. first responders practice active shooter scenarios

First responders from several agencies in Ottawa County participated in scenarios involving clearing rooms, treating victims



By Lauren Formosa
Grand Haven Tribune

SPRING LAKE TWP., Mich. — In order to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, local first responders teamed up Monday night to train for active shooter situations at Lake Hills Elementary School.

The participating emergency responders from the Spring Lake, Ferrysburg and Crockery fire departments ran through three different scenarios, with volunteers from Ottawa County Emergency Management acting as injured or dead victims.

Dividing into two teams, deputies from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office re-enacted taking the response teams into an active shooting emergency and led the trainees through the school’s library and toward the classrooms where the scenarios took place. Once there, the responders acted fast to get the “victims” to safety — calling out commands, clearing rooms, checking “unresponsive bodies” and providing aid to critically injured victims in order to get the survivors out as efficiently and safely as possible.

“Everybody sees what happens in our nation and all throughout the world, really — there’s all kinds of critical incidents that occur,” said Lou Hunt, director of Ottawa County Emergency Management. “What we’re trying to do is get prepared to be as fast and as effective to deal with those situations as possible.

“We know we have great law enforcement, fire and EMS in Ottawa County. They all know their jobs very, very well,” he continued. “But this is an opportunity for them to work together in teams — which doesn’t happen all the time — so they can be really fast and efficient at getting to all these victims, doing triage with them, potentially getting them to a treatment area, and then sending them off to definitive care at the hospitals.”

[RELATED: Top-down preparedness for an active shooter]

The first responders from each department were first given a presentation by Grand Valley Department of Public Safety’s Emergency Manager Sgt. William O’Donnell on what to expect from the live scenarios.

Under O’Donnell’s guidance, the departments were coached and evaluated on important skills needed in a high-stress situation, such as how to best communicate with each other and make tough decisions when assessing a patient’s viability. After each scenario, the intermingled teams reconvened in the school gym to discuss what happened and what could be done better to more effectively and efficiently treat victims.

“Being able to practice scenarios like this helps (to develop) muscle memory, so if we don’t train like an actual incident it’ll become super foreign to us,” said Scott Smith, from the Spring Lake Fire Department. “I think the first scenario was kind of easy, and there wasn’t a whole lot going on from the bystanders or the actual victims. But as the second and third scenario happened, there was a lot more chaos and noise from the bystanders. That was the moment in time where it was like, ‘Oh boy, you have to really rely on your training.’”

Gun violence has been a heavy national topic this year, with the United States experiencing nearly 550 mass shootings, according to data from Oct. 15 through the Gun Violence Archive. Hunt explained that while emergency management and public safety hope to never respond to situations such as these, they want all first responders in the county to have “some experience without having to go through the real thing.”

“When they get into that real-life situation — God forbid they do — that stress level will be through the roof,” Hunt said. “We know that the body really can’t go where the mind has never gone. We want (our first responders), if they’re ever faced with this situation, to have somewhere in that Rolodex in the mind where they can go back to and say, ‘I’ve done this before, I know what to do, I can put that one foot in front of the other.’”

The training, while providing valuable experience to the first responders, was also a learning moment for future EMT student Megan O’Donnell and other student volunteers from the Careerline Tech Center.

Having volunteered in about eight mass-casualties trainings, O’Donnell explained that she’s been able to notice many insightful things about how first responders work to treat patients on scene and get them to safety, such as using their surroundings to transport injured victims. She also said that it has been interesting to get a patient’s perspective on “beside manners” from EMTs in these scenarios and how to stay calm in the midst of chaos.

“I know that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does happen, you don’t have a lot of training beforehand,” O’Donnell said. “This training (helps) so that when you get in the moment you don’t blank and not know what you’re doing. It’s all muscle memory by the time you get into the real situation — so when it’s an emergency, you can think clearly and not panic.”

“I thought we did a really nice job,” Smith said of his department’s work during the training scenarios. “There was a lot of opportunities as the training officer of this department that I walked away from and a lot of things that we will put into our annual training schedule to make sure that things stay ‘front of mind.’”

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