It was only a drill when a purported gunman was “on the loose” in Bel Air High School Sunday morning, as police and first responders practiced their response to an active shooter.
The weapons were rubber or plastic, the victims weren’t really injured or deceased and emergency medical responders didn’t have real injuries to treat, but they played the roles as if it were a real mass casualty at the high school.
The gunman had “shot” several “students” and multiple people were “wounded” in the cafeteria. One person was “dead.”
A white male of an unknown age “took off down the hallway.”
Principal Greg Komondor told the “students” the school was placed on lockdown.
Bel Air High School Resource Officer Richard Krause reported the “shooting” and police from various agencies — Bel Air Police Department, Harford County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police — arrived to stop the “shooter.”
Multiple emergency medical teams teams arrived to treat the “wounded” — 16 to 18 people in the cafeteria on the first floor — as more “shots” were fired on the second floor with more “wounded.”
Some “victims” walked out of the school on their own to a “patient” triage area, others came out on stretchers, still others were carried carried out and one was dragged.
Police escorted the “shooter” outside the school in handcuffs. The injured were taken by ambulance to nearby Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, while others got there on their own.
The scenario played out inside and outside Bel Air High School Sunday morning was part of an drill hosted by the Bel Air Police Department and the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company. The police department and fire company hosted a similar drill at Bel Air Middle School in 2016.
Only a few knew how Sunday’s situation would end, so their “response” was if it were a real emergency.
“We’re trying to get it as realistic as possible, but we only have so many resources,” Bel Air Police Chief Charles Moore said. “That’s why we do this, to make organization out of chaos, to be prepared.”
In addition to the three police agencies, EMS from Bel Air fire company, the Harford County EMS Foundation and Abingdon Volunteer Fire Company participated. Upper Chesapeake also tested its responses by “treating” all the “victims.”
While it didn’t transpire exactly as it would have in a real emergency, Sunday’s drill did allow the various agencies to test their responses and see what they did right, and wrong, so they can go back and modify the emergency response plans already in place.
“We think everything went very well as far as a fire and EMS perspective,” Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Steve Cox said. “It just gives us something to fine tune [so we] can go back to other incidents and look at what we learned here, what we saw here, so we can fine tune these issues.”
The situation went well, Bel Air Police Department Patrol Sgt. Frank Krick, who planned the event, said.
“We had 17 people wounded out of the building in 40 minutes,” Krick said.
And the first team of police officers who went into the building had the shooter down within a few minutes, he said.
One of the aspects of the training was to get EMS personnel from the Rescue Task Force into the “warm zones” as quickly as possible to begin treating the wounded.
Rather than wait for the entire building to be cleared, police will clear as quickly as possible the area where the wounded are, then other officers will escort EMS personnel into the building, even if the assailant could still be in other parts of the building, Sheriff’s Office Maj. William Davis said.
“That way you can stop the dying while you’re still trying to clear the rest of the building,” Davis said.
Clay Celgin, 15, who will be a sophomore at Bel Air High in the fall, said an incident such as this at his school would be very traumatic if it were to ever happen.
“I can see what this would be like. I feel for other people at schools,” said Celgin. “You see the people, the bullet wounds, the EMTs, the stretchers, you see all the guns, it’s very scary to see.”
Celgin and other members of the Bel Air Police Explorers Post were the victims, who had lanyards around their necks that provided guidance for emergency responders as to the extent of their injuries.
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In his role, fifteen-year-old Billy Dvorak, who will be a junior at Bel Air, stepped in front of a friend to protect him. The friend was shot in the leg, but Dvorak suffered two gunshot “wounds” to his chest. He didn’t make it, he was the lone “casualty” of the shooting.
He realized that in a situation like that, he would have to think fast — he only had one second to decide if he would save himself or try and save someone else.
Sixteen-year-old Adam Cretaro, who will be a junior in the fall, said he worries about his safety at school, certainly more than he ever did in elementary school.
“Every time I go to school, I think about it, and it’s not pleasant,” Cretaro said. “I just don’t feel safe in school.”
Each aspect of the drill — police response, school response, fire and EMS response, communications response — was evaluated by internal and external personnel, who in coming weeks will compile their notes, discuss their observations with their teams as well as with the group as a whole.
The plans that are in place can always be made better, Cox said.
“We hope it never happens, but we’re as prepared as anyone else. We talk about it, we plan. Every situation is different. What you can do is come up with your generic game plan and as the situation dictates, you flex accordingly and expect the unexpected,” Cox said. “Hopefully, we never have an incident, but we know it’s going to happen and what we have to do is be prepared.”