Mass shooter response training returns to North Fork

First responders from across Suffolk County will once again train to respond to the type of horrific event that has shattered communities nationwide. 

Mattituck High School will host an active shooter response training program Saturday, Aug. 19. Firehouse Training Plus, owned and operated by Chip Bancroft, deputy chief of the Plum Island Fire Department, will conduct the event. Whereas lockdown drills train students and faculty to protect themselves from an armed assailant in their school, active shooter training prepares the police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who would be called upon to respond to such an attack.

Mr. Bancroft held a similar mass casualty training program at Greenport High School last year. He said that event, which drew participation from 72 area police officers, roughly 100 volunteer first responders and more than 60 student actors, proved educational. 

“We mitigated it pretty quickly, handled the patients and got them out of there and got them treated,” he said of last year’s training. “We had some little tweaking to do on the communication side, making sure all the agencies could talk together. Also, it was nice for everybody to actually see the assets that are available to the county, such as the major emergency response vehicle, which can hold 25 patients.”

The training service helmed by Mr. Bancroft, a longtime first responder and retired Air Force fire chief, was formed in the wake of the seemingly relentless wave of mass shootings in recent years. There have been more than 400 mass shootings in the U.S. this year as of July 24, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The GVA defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four victims, excluding the shooter, are shot in a single incident.

“We have to pay attention to what’s going on with everything in the community and things that could happen,” said Mr. Bancroft, who has served various fire departments throughout his career. “We’re tasked with protecting the community. I’ve seen these active shooters popping up all over, and I’m retired military … We need to prepare for this because we’re not ready. I don’t care about the politics … I have to deal with this. So until they get a plan, we’re gonna have a plan in place, we’re going to prepare ourselves the best we can.”

Officers from Suffolk County and Southold police departments, as well as volunteers from 24 different agencies, are expected to participate in this year’s training, which will simulate a shooting during a junior/senior baseball game at Mattituck High School. 

The simulation will begin from the perspective of first responders. When they arrive on the scene following the shooting, they will find debris from exploded trash cans and dozens of victims with gunshot wounds. Police units will then pursue the assailant into the school building and neutralize them. This takedown procedure will be repeated multiple times so more officers can experience that aspect of the training, Mr. Bancroft said. He sets this portion of the drill inside the building to prevent the student actors from witnessing the violent role-play.

First responders will then work together to coordinate treating the victims.

“Everyone has a part, we have staging officers that check the assets and as they come in,” Mr. Bancroft said. “You have your triage officer who’s going by, saying ‘this person goes first, this person goes second.’ And then we have our transportation officer … It’s a major tracking thing because you don’t want to be the one not having an answer for a parent going, ‘Where’s my son?’ ‘Where’s my daughter?’ ”

To ensure the students do not suffer any serious anxiety or trauma from the day’s events, support staff from Human Understanding and Growth Services, a Westhampton-based nonprofit that addresses the needs of Suffolk County’s youth, will be on hand. The group is currently recruiting student actors for the drill.

“It’s pretty realistic, the scene and the sounds, and the visuals from the scene are pretty impactful,” said Kym Laube, executive director of HUGS Inc. “So we work on the back end with students and do a little decompression and a little transition and just talk with them about ways they can reduce stress, no matter what the stress is, not only for this event.”

Mr. Bancroft will host a discussion with a panel of mass shooting survivors and first responders Friday, Aug. 18, at Mattituck High School. While the discussion is primarily designed to help first responders, there are a limited number of seats open to community members. Mr. Bancroft said it’s important that first responders not only prepare for mass casualty incidents, but also understand that should they face one in real life, they will need help to work through it.

“After 24 hours or so, we forget about the first responders,” he said. “There’s always a ‘thank you’ or accolades, but mentally these people are hurting and you can see it in their faces, you can hear it in their voices. It’s something you never recover from, and you need to talk about it … I worry about the mental health of first responders. That’s why I do this.”

High school students who participate in the first responder training event will earn 10 hours of community service. Those who  are interested can email [email protected].