Orchard Park Middle School may be closed this week for the winter holiday, but Monday night it was filled with police, firefighters, EMTs and actors playing screaming shooting victims as part of an active shooter drill.
**WARNING** This story contains sounds of simulated violence, which may be disturbing to some listeners
The scenario was of a young person with a gun shooting in halls, classrooms and school rooms. Nearly 40 young people volunteered to be the students in the classrooms, as well as the adults in the building when the simulated shooter stormed inside and prowled the halls, working his bloody way upwards in the building.
This particular drill also used new techniques for dealing with these incidents. Police go in immediately, rather than waiting for reinforcements. Emergency medical technicians go in immediately under guard to save the lives of bleeding students. And there is an overwhelming show of force from SWAT officers bursting through doors looking for the shooter or shooters and escorting wounded and unwounded individuals away quickly.
Orchard Park Police Capt. Patrick Fitzgerald said the goal was to be quick and effective.
"They're going to be communicating with dispatch and then we are going to be having a tactical response, we're going to have an EMS response and we're going to work together, joining forces as a rescue task force to come in, locate the injured, set up a casualty collection point in what is still a hostile environment," he explained.
Fitzgerald said teaching kids about what was to go on was not easy.
"We know that the older kids in our secondary buildings, our middle schools and our high schools, they get it. They understand and they perform very, very well - oftentimes to the point where they can even educate and teach some substitute teachers that may be in the classroom that may not know what to do," Fitzgerald said. "It's the primary students, it's the youngest students and, even in some of our elementary buildings, we have pre-K programs. Those are conversations that are difficult."
Fitzgerald said his department worked closely with the school district, assisting them in making recommendations for such drills. Police also partnered with them for different grants that would help fortify doors to classrooms, and make the exterior of the buildings more secure.
"The Orchard Park School District is going to be beginning a capital project shortly where they're going to be strengthening the entranceways to the school buildings," he said.
Orchard Park schools also have school resource officers, who are police assigned to the buildings to work with kids and provide constant security.