AMERICAN CANYON — Gunshots and screams echoed in the American Canyon Community Center. First responders in bulletproof vests huddled outside.
The scene looked much like a response to an active shooting incident, but it was one of two training events for Napa County law enforcement and fire agencies conducted Friday morning in Napa County. The second drill was held at Calistoga High School.
The drills were funded by $176,000 in federal Department of Homeland Security grants that also allowed the county to purchase protective helmets as well as back and chest shields for medics, county officials said.
American Canyon Police Chief Oscar Ortiz said the exercise would help law enforcement work more effectively with unarmed fire personnel when taking calls.
“That’s why we do this,” he said of the simulated situation. “We’re not learning from incidents ... we don’t want to have an actual victim.”
Three volunteer victims in bloodied T-shirts lay sprawled on the floor in the unlit community center, which doubles as the American Canyon Middle School’s gym. A woman crouched next to one of them and waited for officers to file into the room. A track of screams, gunshots and an emergency siren played on repeat.
Gunshots sounded from behind the gym stage about two minutes into the drill. The first team of four officers burst through the gym door. Officers wielded flashlights and approached victims as they tried to track down the source of the gunfire.
More officers eventually arrived, spilled into lit hallways and disappeared behind the dark curtain of the stage. They escorted some victims out of the gym and searched for others. A California Highway Patrol officer called over his radio that a victim was unresponsive.
The soundtrack of screams stopped about 12 minutes into the exercise after two simulated gunmen had been shot and killed. Fire department medics were led into the room about a minute later.
“We have multiple gunshot wounds up here,” an officer called from the stage. “One victim.”
Medics determined which victims could still be saved by checking triage tags, which are cards placed near victims in a mass casualty incident. The tags tell first responders the severity of the person’s injuries.
Some walked out of the room on their own, while others were carried or dragged across the floor on a tarp.
The simulation was over in about 20 minutes.
About 20 volunteers participated in the county’s drill, which was the largest such event that Kerry Whitney, a Napa County emergency services official, has seen during the 12 years he’s had his job.
Having medics equipped with helmets, chest and back shields can help officials get to victims faster, he said.
“We’ve cut that time gap down to a place where these people can go in safely and save lives,” Whitney said.
Deputy Reina Maravilla of the Napa County Sheriff’s Office was among the first group of officers to enter the room. She said her main concern was to find and confront the shooter before other responders arrived.
Officers try to find the shooter by using information that comes in from dispatchers or people fleeing the building on their way in, she said.
“The toughest part is probably getting split up from your team,” Maravilla said.
Eric Costello of the American Canyon Fire Department said he tried to survive the drill by sticking with the cops, but communication was the biggest problem. Things got easier with more practice, he said, and first responders tried to make the event feel as real as possible.
It may be difficult to mimic the environment of a real active shooting scenario, but volunteers and first responders, like Costello, still found the exercise valuable.
“Unfortunately it’s becoming more and more relevant,” Costello said. “It’s everywhere now, unfortunately, whether it’s terrorism or just somebody mad at the world.”