QUEENSBURY -- Gunshot wounds sent nearly a dozen students at the Queensbury school district to the hospital Sunday, all fake injuries during a practice emergency preparedness exercise.
The event involved between 80 and 100 officials to respond to two shooters who activated a fire alarm to draw students into hallways. Police and an Emergency Response Team swept through the building for the perpetrators, ambulances transported volunteer victims to the hospital, and officials debriefed the scenario afterwards. Law enforcement, emergency medical squads and hospital staff participated in the event at the William H. Barton Intermediate School and Glens Falls Hospital, which was a first in some respects for area officials.
"We’ve never done a shooter drill like this," said Jim Cross, captain of the West Glens Falls Emergency Squad. "This was all new to us."
Fire alarms sounded at 9:31 a.m., drawing closed doors. Three Warren County sheriff’s officers and two state troopers conducted the first search, where they encountered students in a hallway and instructed them to sit down. They reached a second floor on a north wing of the school and found several bodies laying across the hallway.
Police searched classrooms, bathrooms and even an elevator, pressing their backs against walls before entering rooms and calling out "clear."
A cafeteria was secured as a transfer point for victims with casualties, and a triage site for patient evaluation was at a nearby school.
About 55 students participating in the exercise later arrived there. Victims in critical condition were transported by six-wheel all-terrain vehicles to ambulances at a neighboring school on the district’s Aviation Road campus.
Alexander Holl, a fifth-grader at the intermediate school, played the role of a gunshot victim. He had a chest wound where the "bullet" entered, and an exit wound in his back.
His mother, Heather Holl, had a pillow over her belly to suggest she was in the third trimester of a pregnancy. She was also hit by gunshot in her shoulder, and sat next to her daughter, a third-grade victim.
She said her son was happy to participate in the drill.
"He’s excited," she said as her son was transported. "He didn’t even sleep last night."
Emergency medical technician Ted Conant created the fake injuries with make-up, a process dubbed "moulage." He said he didn’t try to overdo the injuries.
"You can get the message across with a minimum," said Conant, who assists with Hague, Warrensburg and Richmond, Vt., volunteer emergency medical squads. "And the purpose of this is a learning experience, not 100 percent realism."
He praised the training because of its multi-agency effort, and noted that injuries can have serious psychological effects at first.
A medical transport helicopter also landed on school grounds. Had the situation been real, emergency personnel would have airlifted two of the victims to Albany Medical Center. Officials would also avoid overwhelming one hospital with patients, rather sending victims to multiple sites, said Cross, of the West Glens Falls Emergency Squad.
Glens Falls Hospital received patients at its Emergency Care Center.
Laura Stebbins, the hospital’s director of emergency preparedness and patient safety, said responses for mass casualties can include hundreds of staff from the hospital. Glens Falls Hospital also holds monthly discussions about various scenarios.
After the exercise, a debriefing included responses from officials. Some officials, including staff from State Police and the state Health Department, had been designated as evaluators. Media were not permitted to attend the debriefing, according to Warren County Office of Emergency Services Director Brian LaFlure.
Officials said the exercise, which took more than three months of planning, went well, but had limitations and room for improvement.
One unknown variable the scenario did not address was how emergency responders would handle parents of students arriving at the school, officials said. In addition, a command center radio malfunctioned, prompting officials to use a vehicle’s radio.
"You can practice all day long ... but when this goes to a high school, everything changes," Cross said.
Emergency responders also decided during the event to relocate a triage site out of the cafeteria so that evaluations and treatments wouldn’t be done in a building with an active shooter, Cross said.
A report by the county is planned.
Sheriff Nathan "Bud" York said he would like to repeat the exercise with other school districts twice each year.
Participants included staff from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, State Police, five fire departments led by Queensbury Central Volunteer Fire Co., eight ambulance corps. led by West Glens Falls Emergency Squad, the Emergency Management Office, Queensbury Union Free School District, state and Homeland Security evaluators, the state Mental Health Office, Glens Falls Police Department, and the American Red Cross.