MODESTO — A vengeful ex-con with a knife, a gun and a Molotov cocktail wreaked havoc at Davis High School on Wednesday morning. But in the end, even the dead walked away, and it looks as if everyone passed.
Lessons of the Public Safety Academy final exam will be remembered long after grades go out. The disaster drill wrapped a crime, a fire and triage of the wounded into one heart-pumping, all-out hour.
"It's great experience, working collaboratively with fire departments, working collaboratively with first responders, being on a crime scene," said nurse Tom Nipper, the Health Careers Academy director.
Victims, most of them ROP students from other classes, were graded on a convincing performance and a written paper. "Get your cry on," Anita Holmes told fellow fallen students between exercises.
Lying on the cool floor awaiting rescue, students talked about the difficulty of not helping while being dragged, debated what to scream and shushed the "dead."
Firefighters in turnouts searched on their hands and knees for the wounded in a "burning" classroom, their masks blacked out to mimic the effect of thick smoke in a dark building. "You can't see and can't feel these gloves are terrible," said senior Brandon Ramirez.
As they fumbled across the floor, a hose served as a lifeline to teens straining to find victims and haul them to the door wherever that led. Some got lost (part of the drill) and had to be rescued themselves.
First responders, juniors, evaluated the wounded. Incoherent with back pain: red tag. The dead CPR dummy: black.
The most difficult cases turned out to be the uninjured ones, hysterical screamers who dashed away at every opportunity, tying up caregivers and investigators in the thick of the action. "Talk to them! Keep them calm!" shouted a scene commander.
Criminal justice students tried to manage the crowd, search the parking lot for the suspect and investigate the crime. That meant interviewing panicky and uncooperative witnesses and collecting evidence.
Public Safety Academy Coordinator Joe Silva said his teams would be graded in part on how well they asked questions, diagrammed the scene and used a software program to create a picture of the suspect. Teens could use cell phones to photograph important details.
In the large classroom cleared for the exercise, firefighters crawling along the duct tape-closed hose toward their classmates' cries hit a link in the line that started spurting water and had to be clamped. Gloved hands scanned the floor in wide arcs, sending a blue plastic gun skittering. The Molotov cocktail's blackened pieces ended up in a corner.
The teams used school frequencies, giving a jolt to Assistant Principal Ryan Reynolds, who turned on his walkie-talkie after a meeting to hear police codes replacing the normally laid-back campus chatter.
"It scared me at first," Reynolds said, but then he remembered it was the big day. "There was definitely a buzz on campus this morning."
When the drill was over, cleanup time included doing the paperwork reports, reports, reports. Be ready, teachers added, more emergency calls could be coming.
Such is the messy, chaotic world of public safety, where people and structures often fail, and time waits for no one.
Getting ready to debrief his group, ROP fire science instructor Bob Watt said he'll be working with them on staying calm and speaking clearly. "There was a lot of yelling. And with the radios, the more you yell, the harder it is to hear what you're saying," he said.
"They got a little pumped up, and that's what you expect at this stage," he said.
It is, after all, the first semester's finals.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.
PUBLIC SAFETY ACADEMY
WHAT: Academy students take fire and police career-focused courses, as well as math, English and some science courses that tie lessons to common themes building on that interest. The Health Career Academy offers the same type of program, and its first-responder class students were involved in the mock disaster drill.
WHERE: It is offered at Davis High, but students from other schools in the area can take the career- focused (ROP) courses.
Source: Modesto City Schools