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Boyd officials conduct school shooting training

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 10:46 PM

ASHLAND -- It was the nightmare scenario -- armed gunmen inside a Kentucky school threatening to set fire to the cafeteria filled with students.

It was all part of a full-scale active shooter training exercise Tuesday morning at Charles Russell Elementary School in Ashland. More than 50 law enforcement personnel and more than 50 school personnel (some acting the role of students) participated along with Ashland firefighters and emergency medical services from Boyd, Greenup and Lawrence counties.

Kentucky State Police, Boyd County sheriff's deputies, Ashland police and Catlettsburg police also participated in the largest active shooter training exercise the county has ever had, officials said.

"This was an opportunity to come together and learn," said Ashland Police Chief Rob Ratliff. "We want the public to know we're training for the worst and hoping for the best. The biggest thing we get out of this is a coordinated effort with law enforcement, fire, school and emergency medical services. None of us have enough manpower for something like this. This is a chance to learn in a simulated setting instead of a real incident.

"Hopefully it will result in more combined training," Ratliff said. "Combined training and more inter-agency training is a goal of mine. In my 31-and-a-half years on the job, we've never had anything like this. We all do active shooter training, but we do it by ourselves."

Law enforcement personnel and the three "bad guys" used "simulation," a sort of paintball that is easily cleaned up, Ratliff said. "If you get hit with it, it hurts," he said.

The purpose of the training is to improve responses in a real-life scenario, said Capt. James Stephens, Ashland post 14 commander. In this training exercise, none of the police officers were killed. "I won't allow my officers to train to lose," he said. "We train to win."

The teachers involved in the training exercise got an idea of what to expect, he said. "They didn't realize how bad it could get so quickly," Stephens said. "The more we prepare for this, the better we can respond. We can identify weaknesses in response and training."

Robin Barber, a Verity Middle School secretary, learned "how quickly you're at the mercy of a gunman. Hopefully, something like this never happens. You work for the kids. We want them to feel safe. It was very scary. I wanted the opportunity to go through a real training."

Brent Webster, Boyd County emergency management agency director, said he wanted the training to be prepared for a real-world event.

"Something like this could happen," he said. "We've trained on hazardous materials. We've trained on flooding. This is something that could happen."

Tom Adams, Boyd County executive director of the county emergency medical services agency, had several crews participating and invited several other ambulance agencies to participate. In the training exercise, 10 people were transported to King's Daughters Medical Center, and 10 were sent to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

"This was our first active shooter training exercise," Adams said. "I'm pleased with how it went."

Mark Swift, safe schools coordinator for the Ashland Independent school district, called the training "a tremendous success. It sets us up for success. We did a smaller training exercise at Boyd County last spring. This one was incredible. I was pleased with the quick response."

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