Volunteers were strewn across the First Baptist Church in Tellico Village sanctuary floor Oct. 8, crying out for help as Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department emergency medical technicians took them to safety, far from the fake active shooter scenario.
Though unsettling, the mass casualty preparedness drill helps volunteer firefighters learn how to react in worst-case situations.
Last year, TVVFD focused on a simulated tornado strike. This year, the group focused on a mass shooting.
Rick Papke, TVVFD chief deputy, said simulating the scenario seemed pertinent in today’s world.
“Because of all of the recent shootings that we’ve been having, everybody has to realize that it could happen here,” Papke said. “Nobody expects it, but it could happen here. Our job is to be prepared. We hope for the best, but we train for the worst. That’s why we’re doing that this year.”
Mass casualty drills are not new to TVVFD, but the circumstances of an active shooter differ drastically from responding to TVVFD’s simulated tornado strike, Papke said. The lingering possibility of a mass shooting requires TVVFD to establish a well-rounded knowledge of how to address active shooter situations, particularly when it comes to treating bullet wounds.
“It’s handled a little differently when it’s not a mass shooting,” Papke said. “We send a triage team in to triage them. That only takes about 30 or 40 seconds to triage each person, and then they’re transported out immediately to the treatment areas. The reason it’s different is because with an active shooter, these people have bullet holes in them, and we have to do something to prevent them from going into shock, dying, bleeding out, so forth.”
Dummies on the ground signified victims who didn’t make it, and the rescue team zoned in on the volunteers with lanyards around their necks that explained their condition.
“We entered the church and treated 10 volunteer patients for gunshot wounds, including adding tourniquets and pressure dressings and chest seals,” Papke said.
TVVFD members practiced addressing urgent conditions, such as heavy bleeding. Members quickly tied tourniquets and took victims to safety in the church’s parking lot.
However, the drill didn’t end once victims left the church doors.
Red, yellow, green and black tarps were set out in the parking lot, awaiting a victim whose condition correlated with each tarp — red being the worst condition and green being the “walking wounded.”
Once victims were pulled to safety in the parking lot, the triage team followed the Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment algorithm, honing in on respiration, pulse and mental status. From there, patients were transported to a treatment area.
“Then, we took them to a casualty collection point where they were triaged and transported to the appropriate treatment areas, and then we simulated transportation to hospitals,” Papke said.
Ambulances were in the parking lot, ready to take patients to safety.
Volunteers who attended the drill were unsure what to expect, which also contributed to the drill’s adrenaline.
“I think the idea is just to be surprised to make it more realistic,” Bill Lemmon, volunteer victim, said.
Lemmon had been exposed to a variety of other types of drills throughout his career.
“My former work life, I was sort of involved with the atomic and the interior Department of Energy,” Lemmon said. “Because of that, we had to do a lot of drills and practices and a lot of them were better performed if they were unannounced rather than straight-on.”
John David Curry, an event onlooker, took mental notes to be sure his own church would benefit from the drill.
“For me, I own the safety and security program at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church,” Curry said. “I’m here to observe today to learn things.”