15 Sep 2014
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Volunteers Play the Victims in Mass Shooting Exercise

Police, fire and volunteers simulate a massive shooting at the closed Westmore School to train for a positive outcome: fewer casualties.

Volunteer Sarah Emsley, a rising high school senior, arrived early Monday morning to the now-closed Westmore School building, ready to take a bullet---at least a pretend one. 

Her instruction card directed her to take a GSW (gun-shot wound) to the leg and be emotionally distraught about it.

“It does require some acting,” Emsley said. She's done this before. 

Emsley, along with close to 50 other civic-minded Fairfax residents, put their best panicked faces forward to participate in the second of a three-day training exercise for Fairfax City’s joint Rescue Task Force (RTF). 

Co-led by Fairfax City Police Captain M.J. Artone and Battalion Chief John Ahrens, the RTF is made up of police and fire/EMS personnel who provide immediate medical aid to those injured in a mass shooting.

They aim to lessen the casualties in tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech.

When this kind of incident occurs, Artone said, the goal is to provide potentially life saving care before the area is 100 percent secure. The RTF, comprised of four police officers and two tactical medics, can enter a building, render aid and remove victims while other law enforcement work to neutralize the shooter. 

“We want to get medical care to as many people as possible during the ‘golden hour,’ which means the quicker the better,” said Ahrens. 

Volunteers learned their roles (and chatted) during the first hour, while the professionals reviewed their strategies and tactics. About 35-40 police officers and firefighters/EMS geared up and manned their stations. The volunteers entered the building and took their places. 

Then the simulation started.

9:39 a.m.:  "Shooting" begins.

9:50:  First RTF team enters the building.

9:58:  Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department Ambulance 433 pulls into the area.

10:01: First wounded victim carried out. “Oh my leg, it hurts, it hurts!”

Another wounded participate yells, “That firefighter, is he dead? Is he dead?”

Another person calls out “I want to go home, I want to go home!”

The professionals worked fast to evacuate everyone from the building. The scene was chaotic but nowhere near the pandemonium that occurs in a real scenario, said Artone. 

They cleared the building and debrief.

The leading trainers commended their efforts and then pointed out a few areas for improvement:

“Make sure we get everyone triaged.”

“We need more verbal communication. And we need folks to talk but keep moving.” 

Fairfax City police officers and medics offered constructive suggestions and creative solutions.

“You can’t underestimate the importance of training and preparedness,” said Ahrens. “This gives the police and fire departments a great opportunity to work and plan together.”

Police and fire will hold their last training session of the week tomorrow around 8 a.m. at Westmore.

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