ALLENSTOWN — Picture this: A man with a gun is at a school, shooting out the main entrance doors and then taking aim at the main office staff before proceeding down the hallway, going from classroom to classroom, cafeteria to gymnasium, looking for his next victims. Within five minutes, a dozen students and faculty members are either killed or wounded.
That’s the scene that played out Thursday at Armand R. Dupont School in Allenstown, a drill funded by a federal grant to prepare local emergency and school officials for a nightmare scenario.
Allenstown Police Chief Paul Paquette said exercises such as the one on display Thursday are vital to saving lives should a real threat present itself, a thought echoed by Fire Chief Dana Pendergast, who said learning to work with police officers and school administrators is critical.
“You know, I’m a fire guy, and big red trucks (aren’t the same) as little blue cars, so I can see a whole different version of things, and because we are a small community, my job will be running part of their scene, and that’s something totally out of my comfort zone,” said Pendergast. “But it’s pretty cool that we can all work together and come out here and get the necessary training, especially in light of some of the stuff that’s been going on like the Newtown shootings and the Boston bombings.”
Thursday’s drill was the first time Allenstown emergency officials embraced the relatively new concept of a “warm zone,” in which firefighters and EMT’s are escorted into a volatile scene to begin lifesaving measures on victims while police attempt to isolate the threat elsewhere.
“Normally for us, we’re command and control, restrict access and stand back until (police) tell us it’s clear,” said Pendergast. “Now we’re finding that immediate care, getting in sooner to remove these victims that have life threatening injuries that potentially will die by bleeding out.”
Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland, Emergency Management Director, said the “warm zone” approach proved successful during Thursday’s drill.
“It looks like that worked exceptionally well, getting treatment to those people faster so we can save those lives, and that was a key part of this exercise we wanted to test,” said Mulholland. “With that said, there were some delays in the incident command, getting the police and the firefighters together so they can share information faster, but they’re doing it now and it’s working.”
The drill also resulted in the shooter, played by Bedford police Sgt. Kyle Thrasher, being taken alive. The exercise was graded throughout by emergency officials from across the state on four components — operational coordination, mass search and rescue, public information and operational coordination — and a report will be provided in several weeks that will identify the strengths and weaknesses of Allenstown’s emergency response.
The training also involved mutual aid from Hooksett and Pembroke police, the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Department and school district officials.
“This is really important to have an understanding of the procedures and to have a safety plan in place, which is something we take very serious,” said Armond R. Dupont School Principal Mark Dangora. “It’s critical for the agencies, collectively, to work together with one another, and communication is the key ... there were definitely some learning moments today.”