RALEIGH – The reports coming out of Daniels Middle School on Thursday morning were grim: multiple casualties with a gunman at large on the Oberlin Road campus.
In the wake of this spring’s Virginia Tech massacre, heavily armed Wake County emergency officials held a drill to practice responding to a similar mass shooting.
“Granted, it’s not real life, but it’s stressful,” Joseph Zalkin, a Wake EMS assistant chief said as paramedics rushed up and down a hall carrying “victims” with injuries ranging from a twisted ankle to gunshot wounds.
Learning new ways
Officials at the scene, including Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison and county Commissioner Paul Coble, said the training will help police and paramedics react to “active shooter” emergencies.
“Since Columbine, Sept. 11 and Virginia Tech, we all have had to learn new ways to deal with an active shooter,” said Skip Kirkwood, chief of Wake County Emergency Medical Services.
Zalkin said reports from those and similar events showed a lack of common training between law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.
After the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, a statewide task force invited Wake EMS and other medical responders to train with law enforcement officers in the event of a similar incident in North Carolina.
Wake EMS and law enforcement officers used two wings of the middle school Thursday to prepare for the “worst-case scenario” of a school shooting. Before entering the school, EMS officials, in anticipation of mass casualties, parked the new Wake EMS Truck 1 beside the building.
The truck is outfitted like a traditional ambulance but is capable of treating and transporting up to 10 critically injured victims at a time. Truck 1 is among the earliest responders in mass casualty situations.
“The goal is to not have the criticals sit for too long,” Zalkin said.
County officials bought the truck and supplies last year for about $300,000 through a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Jon Olson, an EMS division chief.
The truck was a prominent fixture during an emergency call Feb. 22 when a fire nearly destroyed Pine Knolls Townes, a townhouse complex off Capital Boulevard. Though there were no injuries, the truck provided relief for emergency workers.
Triage set up
EMS also set up a triage unit in the school cafeteria to treat the injured — dummies were used — before transporting them to nearby hospitals.
“All right, we got a major head injury,” a paramedic said while she and another carried a victim into the cafeteria on a cot.
“We are carrying it much further,” said EMS District Chief Jeff Hammerstein. “We are putting all of the pieces together and doing it at a school, where shootings happen.”