By Rick Palsgrove
The old Groveport Madison High School on South Hamilton Road performed one more educational function before it will be demolished this summer.
On June 8, Groveport Police and Madison Township Police used the now empty school for training on how to respond to active threat situations.
Additionally, the Madison Township Fire Department held firefighter training sessions in the school from June 8-11.
Police vs. active threat
“We selected the old school for our training because we wanted to use a realistic environment and one in which our officers were familiar,” said Groveport Police Sgt. Josh Short. “We conduct this type of training due to the nationwide increase in active threat incidents and our desire to more efficiently stop one if it were to occur in our area. Using school locations is convenient for us due to the wonderful relationship we have with Groveport Madison Schools.”
Madison Township Police Chief Gary York said officers were placed into a simulated “active threat” situation in which they were the initial responding officer and then had to locate and render the threat inactive.
“We used the term ‘active threat,’ because not all incidents involve the use of a gun,” said York. “Knives, improvised explosive devices, vehicles, or other objects could be used.”
York said, by going through the scenarios, officers learned how critical the use of cover and tactical deployment is.
“We attempted to make this training as real as possible,” said York.
“Officers were given the details of the scenario and then had to recognize and react, while navigating the school, to eliminate the threat,” said Short.
In the training scenario, officers were “dispatched” to the school on report of an active shooter with multiple victims. Once inside the officer had to safely and efficiently navigate the many halls, doorways, stairs, and rooms of the large school to quickly get to the shooter.
“Once you start the scenario, you are totally focused on the situation, and it seems like it took forever, but it was literally over in about a minute,” said Groveport Police Officer Ernie Bell. “It’s much more realistic and much more difficult when you are shooting at an actual moving person versus a paper target.”
According to Short, the active shooter training session was conducted using modified weapons that can shoot blanks, to simulate real gunfire, and marking cartridges, which allow officers to engage the threat with non-lethal bullets.
Short, who played the role of an active shooter, described his experience as the villain in the training session in one word: “Ouch!”
York said officers were provided limited information and then a stimulus – the sounds of gun shots, loud noises or a person with a deadly weapon – where they needed to react based on their training and experience.
“We placed the officers in a tough, realistic scenario, which induced stress and forced them to make quick decisions to end the threat,” said York.
Short said that, once the shooter was located, officers employed tactics on how to penetrate the room to stop the shooter and avoid injury to innocent victims. Officers were also updated on proper procedures for afterwards, such as radio communication and first aid.
By this type of training, Short said, officers experienced the negative physical responses, such as tunnel vision, rapid breath, shaking hands, caused by stress.
“Through exposure, repetition, and after action assessment we want the officers to overcome the negative responses so their performance improves with each scenario,” said Short.
Short said the training is important because active threat situations are increasing nationwide.
“As with any criminal trend, law enforcement must respond with awareness and training to ensure the public we are committed to their safety,” said Short.
York said training like this keeps things real for the officers.
“It shows them areas of needed improvement, along with equipment adjustments and basically what works and what doesn’t,” said York.
Firefighters take on the challenge
Madison Township Fire Chief Jeff Fasone said when the chance to use the old high school for training arose, his department jumped at the chance.
“Training opportunities are more likely a residential structure in disrepair or being cleared for other development,” said Fasone. “Commercial structures usually get remodeled instead of demolished. Old schools can also be remodeled. So, when you hear of an opportunity to use a school for training, you pounce.”
Fasone said firefighters practiced several scenarios that required advancing hose lines charged with water long distances and up stairs. This included fire suppression techniques, forcible entry and downed firefighter rescue in zero visibility aided by the department’s smoke generator.
“Some shifts took time after the drills to practice breaching cement block walls for emergency egress from the building,” said Fasone.
Fasone said the training sessions challenged the firefighters.
“Hot days in full fire gear,” said Fasone. “They would recon a fire alarm scenario, locate the fire area, get hose lines established to that area, then go ‘on air’ enter a zero visibility area and have to force a door to get to the seat of the fire. Once they found the seat of a simulated fire they were able to open the hose line and throw water inside the room until told the fire was out.”
Fasone said extending long hose lines can present problems that can be avoided when you take time setting up.
“Some door locks were set a little higher than expected, this made forcing entry in a blind environment more difficult and these doors were more robust than a door found in a residence,” said Fasone.
Training such as this benefits firefighters, according to Fasone.
“A lot of our training is computer or classroom based,” said Fasone. “We can build simulators and training aids to simulate a task that needs to be done. But that’s no match for getting to use the skills you’ve learned in a hands-on environment to add a sense of realism.”