Mesquite Fire and Police Departments personnel discuss their observations, training and feedback after a joint exercise. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

It kicked off with a single radio call from the Dispatch Center to all Mesquite Fire and Police Department personnel about an active shooter at the high school. That’s all the first responders were told as a joint training exercise with both departments began in the early morning July 17.

It would be the first time that local paramedics would don bulletproof vests and steel headgear. It would be the first time for some of the police officers and paramedics to venture together into a dangerous and unknown situation of this type. While this type of training had been done in years past, it was a new adventure for several of them.

“We’re training our paramedics on what it may be like to wear this kind of protective gear and still be able to do their jobs,” Fire Chief Jayson Andrus said. “I never thought I’d see the day they have to wear this gear but it’s where we are now.”

Fire Captain Spencer Lewis and Police Officer Taylor Bundy worked on and planned out the scenario of an active shooter in the high school. They scattered make-believe victims, both dead and alive, through several hallways and rooms, much like a real situation could be. They staged a ‘shooter’ somewhere in the halls or rooms of the building.

It was up to the police officers to first enter the building and clear the “hot” zones, those areas in which the shooter had been or possibly still was. While some police were still pursuing the bad guy, other police were accompanying paramedics into the “warm” zones, areas where casualties were located but did not pose an active threat.

While the paramedics were attending to the wounded in the warm zone, police officers stood guard at the ends of the hallways or nearby, protecting both the treated and treaters.

The main goal of the scenario was to get both police and paramedics used to working together during an extremely tense situation and get help to casualties more quickly.

Practicing communications between the police and fire departments was another important part of the exercise. “It’s not that we don’t talk to each other,” Captain Lewis said. “But this is a situation where we want everyone to feel comfortable working together and understanding what’s going on from both sides. The more we practice these kinds of scenarios, the better we’ll be able to handle them in a real-world situation.”

Chief Andrus explained that not all facets of a real-world situation like this were exercised. “For instance,” he said, “we would have to set up a triage area outside for victims. We would also have to figure out quickly where to stage for med-evac helicopters and where we would gather parents, students, and the general public.”

Police Captain Quinn Averett explained that while the day’s exercise training was carried out at the high school, “the same lessons we’re learning here will help us tremendously in any location like a business or public place. The fundamentals are basically the same.”

While the active training lasted close to an hour, all the participants gathered in the shade afterwards to finish out the most important part – learning what went wrong, what went right, and how to do things better the next time.

While no one ever wants to imagine a situation like this happening in their world, the public can know that Mesquite first responders will be thoroughly trained and there to help.