SIDNEY — Sidney’s first responders are diligently working to prepare for the unthinkable here: an active shooter situation.
Friday morning, Sidney Police and Fire, along with area police departments, conducted an active shooter drill at Christian Academy Schools on Russell Road.
“It was a great exercise and opportunity to bring together multiple groups, from students to school administration to the fire department to other law enforcement agencies. We were really blessed to have outside agencies come in and assist (with the exercise),” said Sidney Police Chief Will Balling. “Getting those viewpoints from other agencies really helped make it a better event.”
Members of Sidney-Piqua Police Tactical Response Team (TRT); Sidney Fire Rescue Task Force; Piqua, Troy, Wapakoneta and Botkins police departments; the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the tactical medic for Sidney-Piqua TRT, Woody Goffinett from Wilson Health, also participated in or observed the drill.
On school grounds, 37 student, administrator and teacher volunteers from Sidney Christian acted as the victims. First responders knew nothing about what to expect when the drill began. Training commenced when a loud boom went off outside the building. At the front entrance, the first “deceased” victim from a gunshot wound to the head lay blocking the smoke-obscured doorway. The smoke was meant to create confusion and a sense of chaos. Along with sirens shrieking, administrators could be heard over the intercom speaker system alerting everyone that an active shooter was on the premises.
Sidney Police officers didn’t know when any of them would be sent into the fray. They were chosen to respond by their names drawn randomly and arrived on scene using only knowledge provided from the steps learned in previous training scenarios. Some “surviving” students exited the building as officers entered; others “wounded” or “dead” lay on floors, strewn throughout school hallways. The first responding officer was shot down in the practice drill.
Once additional responders were on scene, they began searching each room for the shooter; others checked victims for a pulse or attended to the survivors’ critical wounds.
After officers identified the shooter’s location, TRT members began negotiation tactics in an attempt to peacefully end the simulated violence. Law enforcement surrounded the classroom in the hallway and outside windows. In this drill, officers were able to make entry into the classroom after negotiating with the alleged shooter and eventually took him into custody. A Sidney Police cruiser then arrived at the rear of the school building to transport the suspect to jail.
“This is probably the most complete that we are dealing with by having the fire department respond with us and incorporating a lot of the stuff we have learned over the last couple of years from the active shooter instances from across the United States,” Balling said about Friday’s training compared to previous training events. “We hope this will be one of the first of several series of trainings that we do because the magnitude of an incident like this — there is so much going on — you really can’t train for it in just one day.”
At the completion of the drill, everyone in attendance gathered in the school gymnasium to discuss the event. Afterward, first responders retreated to discuss privately what could have gone better.
Sidney Police Sgt. Jeremy Lorenzo, who led the training exercise, said “nothing glaring stood out” concerning what went wrong during the drill. He said when planning the exercise, they purposely used various situations and props to cause chaos, such as people blocking the door, the smoke machine and the locked front door which would cause confusion about how to get inside the building.
Jackson Center High School student Bailey Boss, 16, daughter of Christian Academy Schools teacher Brenda Boss and Tom Boss, played the part of a shooting victim. She said she was a little anxious when first responders came by but tried to just lie still.
“It was interesting. (The practice) gives us a better view of what it would actually be like than what schools give you in the day, where you basically just leave the building,” Bailey Boss said.
Former Christian Academy Schools student Melody Joines, 16, daughter of Maureen and Andrew Joines, of Sidney, found it to be interesting as she hopes to become either a police officer or a paramedic. She recalled being nervous at the beginning of the drill, with her adrenalin pumping, but then relaxed after she realized she just had to play dead.
“I thought it might be cool to see what would really happen in an actual scenario, because we can always imagine what it would be like, but I guess the nerves (you don’t truly know),” Joines said. “I thought it was interesting in a weird way, that they would just check the dead bodies and almost like they would tag us. — Like OK, you’re dead — and then just go to other people. I think it’s a good system though; go to the victims first, then come back.”
“I thought it went well. It was a great example of communication with all the staff and all the people. We have learned a lot out of it. I’ve probably learned more than I thought I would,” Balling said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.