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First responders train during active shooter drill at Fallbrook High

While students were away from school Tuesday, Feb. 18, the North County Fire Protection District hosted an active shooter drill at Fallbrook Union High School.

The full-scale exercise included representative participants from North County Fire Protection District, Vista Fire, Camp Pendleton Fire, Pala Fire, Cal-Fire and North Comm., as well as San Diego County Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol, United States Customs and Border Protection and the Oceanside Police Department.

Representatives from FUHS and the district were in attendance and Fallbrook High students from the JROTC participated in the drill as victims.

"These aren't real fun drills to put on, especially for school officials; they are hoping we are never here doing this. Hopefully, we're not," NCFPD Division Chief Keith McReynolds told fire and paramedic participants during a briefing before the drills. "One of the learning points in the after actions of the Vegas shooting was the importance of law enforcement and fire to train together. We do not do a good job in our country of training enough with law enforcement.

"There are not going to be a lot of surprises, this is not a ready-set-go type of training, we're going to walk through exactly what we're hoping to see, we're going to set everybody up for success," McReynolds said.

McReynolds mapped out the drill and the approach they would use that day, slightly different from the one they did three or four years ago at the school.

"We want to set up a triage unit right in front of the theater," he said. "Because the reality is if we created a triage unit in front of the school, we probably wouldn't be able to get our ambulances in there and the front of the school is going to be a mess anyway.

"Be thinking at the 30,000-foot level view, be thinking big picture. I want everyone to be thinking much bigger than that, be thinking big picture, be thinking whole school property," he said.

NCFPD Medical Service Officer Mary Murphy quizzed and informed the group before sending the group off to their respective positions.

"It's easy to go in and think we have a lot of high school students who look like they're injured but they can walk because you know it's fake and not treat it as if it's real," she said. "But this is the only chance you get to practice until it is real. So, if we make them get up and walk because we can't be bothered to carry them or we can't figure out the logistics that won't work on the day. We need to be able to figure this out and treat it for real. There are too many cases escalating all the time. Yes, we hope this never happens here, but we want everyone to be ready when it does."

When the drill kicked off, representatives from the Sheriff's Departments worked the campus to neutralize the threat while securing student victims where they were grouped.

Fire personnel swooped in to gather the students and walk and carry them back to the triage station where more personnel evaluated the student victims, putting them into spaces that indicated the severity of their injuries.

Others were carried to spots where ambulances would then theoretically carry them to local hospitals for care.

Watching the entire process was Fallbrook High Principal Dr. Narciso Iglesias who was grateful for the effort put forth by the first responders.

"I think for me the partnerships that we have with our first responders is critical," he said. "Every day as a school we work with them one way or the other, whether it's a medical issue, whether it's some concerns that we may have, just being able to have that collaboration is critical."

San Diego County Sheriff's Department Fallbrook substation commander Lieutenant Arnold Aldana was observing the drill from in front of the school's administration offices.

"This training is bringing together fire and (law enforcement) response to a situation that we hopefully don't have to respond to, but the reality is it happens," he said. "And if we can work together, to iron out the kinks, so then if it does happen the response is much more efficient than just complete chaos. From my perspective, this training is beneficial just so that we can collaborate with each other, so that we know that fire is ready to go when we're ready to go and vice versa."

Lt. Aldana said the training transcends an active shooter situation.

"It's always better to train with other departments so that you get to know each other," he said. "So that there is no chaos that is inherent in situations like this."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected].


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