Local emergency responders recently gathered to hone their skills in working together in preparation of a large-scale active shooter drill planned for this spring at Paris Regional Medical Center.

Nine Paris SWAT officers and eight Paris EMS paramedics, as well as PRMC security staff and other hospital personnel, met Wednesday on the unused top floor of the hospital’s South Campus to practice the maneuvers and techniques both services will need to respond safely and effectively if someone with a gun were to enter a busy medical facility and open fire.

“The police train for this kind of scenario on a fairly regular basis, and so does EMS,” said Paris EMS paramedic Russell Thrasher, coordinator of the drill planned for April 21 at PRMC North. “But it has been quite some time since any of the local emergency responders have trained with other departments. This kind of thing, unfortunately, happens all too often these days. When the hospital began plans to hold a drill of this nature, we realized everyone needs to be as prepared as possible to work together.”

Paris SWAT commander Lt. Steve Owens led Wednesday’s exercise, integrating police and emergency medical personnel as they practiced maneuvers and techniques to safely and efficiently enter a building where a supposed gunman has killed or injured a large number of people.

“We’re here today to see what works best in this kind of situation,” Owens said. “In a real-life situation like this, the police’s first objective is to get to the shooter. Secondary teams, which include EMS, come in after. It’s our job then to get them to the victims and get them out, victims and rescuers.”

The exercise began with Owens and his team instructing and demonstrating some of the maneuvers and formations SWAT uses to move through a building in search of a perpetrator, and the vocabulary and non-verbal signals they use to remain as silent as possible. The officers then showed the paramedics how they might be inserted into the teams and how to work with tactical teams to retrieve victims in a variety of scenarios.

In full response equipment — helmets, bulletproof vests, real, unloaded weapons and communication gear for the police; heavy packs and a variety of litters for paramedics —  the group ran through a number of scenarios, setting up scenes requiring the teams to deal with multiple victims, with or without the presence of the shooter nearby. A heavy weighted mannequin stood in for the victim as paramedics lifted, evaluated and evacuated it under the protection of their armed escorts.

Between sessions, the participants gathered at a central location to discuss what just happened and to offer ways to fix any problems they encountered. Each service member offered insights based on their own training and experience to help make the efforts as seamless as possible.

“This is great,” said paramedic Chris Shoemake. “Some of this, we’re pretty familiar with, like the concept of nonverbal signals, but going into a dangerous situation like this, I haven’t trained nearly enough.”

“It kind of goes against our instinct to go slow like this,” said paramedic Justin Watson, “but sometimes you’ve got to. All of this is so calculated and done with a purpose, to keep everyone as safe as possible in this kind of situation.”

Owens said Paris Police were grateful to PRMC for allowing them access to the building for the exercise.

Hospital administrators began planning for the live-shooter drill several months ago, and enlisted local emergency responders in the city to take part in the event. Plans for the drill will involve a number of volunteers from the community, hospital personnel, law enforcement and emergency services workers. The drill is to be April 21 at the hospital’s North Campus on DeShong Drive, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 271 North and Loop 286.