First responders practice teamwork during winter break


Courtesy / GVPD

Lucas Swartzendruber, Staff Reporter

On Dec. 15, the Grand Valley Police Department and other first responders participated in an active assailant response drill in Mackinac Hall on the Grand Valley State University Allendale Campus. Such timing ensured the exercise occurred after Fall 2019 classes ended.

“During academic breaks, it is time that we look to try to identify a location on campus in which we can do drills like this,” said GVPD Captain Jeff Stoll. “So it minimally impacts students, faculty, staff and facilities.”

For the term “active assailant,” Stoll said it is meant to be inclusive of all forms of violence. He mentioned “active shooter” limits violence to someone firing a gun. Harm can come from other threats, such as knife and vehicle attacks.

Earlier in the fall semester, an active assailant drill at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences demonstrated survival tactics to students, including close-lock-barricade. By contrast, the Dec. 15 drill served more as training for first responders in a rescue task force.

Stoll said the purpose of a rescue task force is having first responders reach patients as quickly as possible. Here, police officers protect medical personnel as they treat victims of active assaults. Ottawa County Emergency Management Director Nick Bonstell said the rescue taskforce differs from earlier practice, for emergency medical services (EMS) previously waited until police cleared the building to treat victims.

“The quicker you get to them, the better chance that they have for survival,” Bonstell said.

Bonstell said sheriff’s office deputies serve as first medical responders in some parts of Ottawa County, yet he mentioned fire departments hold this responsibility in most of the county’s jurisdictions. This also applies to the rescue task force where firefighters provide medical attention.

Bonstell said a number of organizations comprised a planning team for the drill. Team members included Grand Valley State University, Ottawa County Central Dispatch, Allendale Fire Department, Life EMS and other first response agencies. They developed objectives within the drill, such as testing 800-megahertz radios and collaborations between police and firefighters.

The drill featured three scenarios related to a mass-casualty event, Stoll said. Some individuals were observers, distinguished by their neon vests. Others volunteered to act the roles of victims, witnesses and suspects. GVPD Sergeant William O’Donnell said the roleplaying victims had makeup applied to simulate injuries.

Stoll said he spent plenty of time observing Parking Lot D1, recalling seeing various local fire departments park their trucks. Firefighters then received help from police in reaching the simulated victims. Stoll described this moment as a logistical victory in seeing the rescue task force carried out.

Another success involved 800-megahertz radios working well. O’Donnell said there was concern the departments would overwhelm the radio towers during the drill. Stoll said first responders managed to communicate on their respective channels seamlessly. Those channels could also be expanded and contracted as needed.

“What really kind of sticks out to me is how smoothly and how quickly we could have 140 participants work through the exercise,” Bonstell said.

Bonstell said a challenge in coordinating such a large group of participants is communication. This means making sure everyone understands their responsibilities and goals. The drill lasted three-and-a-half hours, yet Bonstell said the participants knew their roles and stayed on time all the way to final briefing.

Stoll said it was beneficial to continue training with local agencies. He also mentioned GVPD serves as a conduit for first responders to know other firefighters and police officers, essentially networking between agencies. In the process, Stoll said the drill helps GVPD build connections with agencies for handling actual emergencies.

“The people that we are going to see, if an incident like that were to take place, were the ones that were there training with us,” Stoll said.