The call came in as a disturbance at Burbank High School, with reports of a man trying to push his way through faculty to get on campus.
A group of police officers clutching plastic guns and paramedics donning bullet-proof vests listened to the radio as the situation escalated.
Moments later, a series of ear-piercing gun shots came from campus, prompting the first-responders to spring into motion.
But the hallways were nearly empty, and the call was fake.
The officers and paramedics were responding to a simulated field emergency at the school, which will welcome thousands of students in a couple weeks as school goes back in session.
The drill was part of a series of “active-shooter” training sessions that involved Burbank patrol officers, detectives, sergeants and lieutenants as well as Burbank firefighters and paramedics.
Historically, paramedics are not allowed or willing to enter these situations until police determine there’s no longer a threat, which is something authorities are trying to change, said Burbank Police Lt. John Dilibert.
“Unfortunately during that time, many people could lose their lives because of their injuries they suffered because there wasn’t medical aid given to them fast enough,” Dilibert said. “That being said, there’s a movement throughout the United States now to look at how to make that happen with changes.”
While this marks the third year of “active-shooter” training for the police department, this year’s training involved firefighters and paramedics for the first time so that first-responders are able to treat victims while also stopping any aggression.
So, while one team of officers went in to find and stop the suspect during the drill, another group — with plastic guns drawn — escorted paramedics through the school, allowing them to begin treating the wounded.
“Moms and dads want to know that their kids are getting taken care of right away,” Dilibert said. “They don’t want to know that we couldn’t get to them fast enough.”
From the fire department’s perspective, responding to “active-shooter” incidents is similar to dealing with hazardous materials. There’s a “hot zone,” where the shooter or material is located, a “warm zone,” where the shooter or material could reach, and a “cold zone,” where the shooter or material can’t reach, said Burbank Fire Chief Tom Lenahan.
“Our personnel don’t carry weapons. On a call like this, they have to be trained to put on a bullet-proof vest and a ballistic helmet and they’ll be within the scene of an active shooting,” Lenahan said, adding that his employees will be trained to treat victims in warm and cold zones.
“When an incident of this nature takes place, there’s always going to be some chaos, but the better trained you are in open communication… that helps that fog of war to be lifted and some normalcy to be put within the incident,” Lenahan said.
During the drills, students from the Key Club and Associated Student Body pretended to be victims, with some labeled “critical,” and others, “dead.”
“It felt very real, especially with all the unfortunate events that have been going on,” said Burbank High School senior Whitney Mackey, a Key Club member who was a participant. During the drills, she went from playing a student who was shot in the leg to one who’d been shot in the shoulder, and, at one point, she was next to a “grenade.”
Authorities have used different school facilities over the years — including John Burroughs High School and Joaquin Miller Elementary School — for the training so officers can get to know the different campuses, said Burbank Police Officer John Voorhis, who also serves as the department’s school resource officer.
Mackey said she was impressed with the training. “They are all so serious about training,” she said. “That reassures me that I know they can keep us safe.”