Brooklyn Primary School became an eerie scene of chaos and violence Friday and Saturday afternoons as shots rang out in the hallways and teenagers fell to the floor with wounds sustained by the gunfire.
The good news is the wounds weren’t real and neither was the gunfire.
The shots came from pistols and rifles loaded with plastic silicone bullets, known as “simunition” rounds and used for training.
And the injuries were described on tags hung around the necks of the volunteers who helped bring a greater degree of realism to the scenarios played out both afternoons.
A group of teenagers, who also were joined by a few adults on Friday, filled the empty school with shrieks of terror as they ran aimlessly through the hallways seeking safety and crying out for help for themselves and their injured friends. It was all a part of “active threat” scenarios conducted during training brought to Baker City by officers with the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
Baker City Police, Baker County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police officers were joined by others from agencies in Union and Umatilla counties for the exercises. Dispatchers also participated along with EMTs and paramedics from the Baker City Fire Department.
The volunteer victims were recruited to provide added realistic confusion to scenes that police and emergency responders likely would encounter should an actual school shooting or other active threat take place in the community.
“Any time we can get the community involved it adds to the training,” said Jim de Sully, regional training manager for the DPSST in Salem.
de Sully, who retired as assistant chief of the Tigard Police Department in 2016 after a 30-year career in law enforcement, said he took some time off in retirement before changing direction and hiring on at the academy.
“We take these trainings very seriously,” he said. “We try to teach the officers ... to be critical thinkers, to treat people with care and compassion.
“The key is the ability to recognize that there is a problem, to identify the problem and to respond appropriately,” de Sully said.
He was joined by other trainers including Oregon State Police officers Jason M. Perrizo, who is assigned to the special weapons/tactics team at the training center in Salem, and Gavin Mclvenna, an OSP senior trooper. Gerod Rayburn, firearms coordinator at the police academy, also traveled to Baker City for the two days of training.
Baker City Police Sgt. Wayne Chastain served as an observer and coach for officers. Lance Woodward, who works as the Baker City Police Department’s school resource officer during the school year, coordinated with Baker High School staff to recruit student volunteers from the National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America and the drama club to help with the exercise.
His daughter, Naomi Woodward, a senior and member of the National Honor Society, was among those who volunteered.
The students, or their parents for those younger than 18, were required to complete paperwork acknowledging “informed consent, accident waiver and release of liability” before taking part. The form included information abut the possibility of “emotional trauma and physical injury,” though volunteers did not use weapons and were not targeted by the active shooters in the building.
They were provided with ear protection and safety glasses and a safety officer cleared each person entering the building to ensure no weapons, ammunition, tasers, knives, batons or chemicals were brought inside the exercise area.
Volunteers were instructed not to engage the aggressors during the training. Their only options were to “evacuate, run or hide.”
Their participation in the training was invaluable, Rayburn said.
“The difference between moving through a quiet, empty building — and this — is night and day,” he said.
For example, with hallways filled with victims lying prostrate on the floor waiting for emergency responders, police had to consider even where they could safely point their weapons as they traveled through the building. And at times, the students sent officers in the wrong direction in the agitated states they were portraying while others writhed in “pain” while crying out to the officers.
Friday’s session was repeated Saturday, with both trainings taking place at Brooklyn School, to allow as many law enforcement officers as possible to take advantage of the classes being offered closer to their homes.
Ben Klecker, the Eastern Oregon regional training coordinator for DPSST, helped organize the training in Baker City. He was gone on Saturday to attend a training of his own.
Baker County Undersheriff Jef Van Arsdall, a part-time trainer at the academy, was on hand Saturday as one of the shooters.
Officers entered the building in pairs, trading off partners for each scenario during the afternoon session, which followed a morning session of classroom training.
The officers entered the school not knowing in advance what they might find. The next to last scenario included a second shooter (Van Arsdall), who was hiding in a bathroom off the hallway.
The shooter came from behind officers who already were down the hallway ahead of him. He fired his weapon multiple times as he progressed before police finally stopped him.
In every scenario, officers continued through the building checking briefly on the victims to make a cursory assessment of their injuries before making their way to the shooter.
“They are focused on getting to that point first,” de Sully said. “It’s not that we don’t want to help them. The goal is to get the person stopped from hurting anyone else.”
And once that goal was accomplished, paramedics were called to gather up the victims to take them to the gymnasium, which was designated as the “casualty collection point.”
As each scenario progressed, trainers coached their students through their responses, providing advice on how to improve their performance.
Law enforcement and fire department crews got a workout during the day as they hustled their way through the school’s long corridors. EMTs and paramedics dragged the student actors down the hallways to the gymnasium for each scenario.
Firefighter/EMT Cameron Kiyokawa with the Baker City Fire Department, showed his dedication to the training by choosing to carry one victim, drama student Jordan Remien, a BHS senior, over his shoulder down the hallway to the gym. Kiyokawa said he found carrying Jordan a more efficient way of moving him.
As the afternoon progressed, the officers earned high praise from their trainers.
“That was well done,” Rayburn told the class. “You were efficient in your movements and communication was there establishing command.
“If that wasn’t a home run, that was a strong triple,” he told the group after one scenario had been completed. “I don’t know what could have gone any better.”
Communication and coordination is vital in responding to active threats, Rayburn said. Just six officers participated in Saturday’s training, which could be the actual number of law enforcement responding during an actual threat because of the limited resources in Eastern Oregon, he said.
de Sully complimented the work Baker County has done to prepare for an active threat in the community.
“Baker has really done a good job of having the conversation and planning,” he said. “But I would caution — don’t stop planning, continue to review the plan. Plan and be prepared for the worst.”