Fairview Hospital drills train emergency responders for active-shooter scenarios
GREAT BARRINGTON — Shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday, a "gunman" — portrayed by a police officer — entered the first floor of Fairview Hospital, yelling, "Where's Peter?"
The upset ex-hospital employee moved down the main hallway, opening unlocked doors looking for Peter. In searching the conference room, he "shot" several people, their screams rang out, killing one woman and injuring the rest.
The active shooter then continued his search for the man who cost him his job.
"Peter, come outside," the gunman yelled. "No one fires me."
The gunman shot one more person, apparently a hospital staffer, before police arrived. The first officer on the scene ordered the gunman to drop his weapon, get on his knees with his hands up, then lie down, face first. Additional local police and a local tactical unit entered the first floor to ensure there were no other shooters and secure the building. Another law enforcement team escorted EMTs and paramedics into the hospital to treat the wounded and remove the seriously injured to awaiting ambulances.
The above scenario was one of three similar deadly situations played out by dozens of South County police, fire, emergency medical personnel and the Berkshire County Special Response Team during the two-hour training exercise. Practicing a coordinated response to such a violent situation was a much-needed first for the hospital, local police and first responders, according to Heather Barbieri, Fairview's emergency management director.
"When we held a planning meeting in January, we realized not everyone's plan was on the same page," Barbieri said.
Reflected in Sunday's training is how the police response to an active shooter has changed in recent years, said Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh.
The protocol had been to secure the scene and make sure the shooter or shooters are accounted for, before dealing with the wounded.
"The new thinking is get EMS (emergency medical services) into a building quicker, before it's all clear, but there is a risk involved," he said.
As for Fairview staff, they are taught to run, hide or fight if a gunman enters the building.
"If you can, get out. If there's no safe exit, get out of sight and lock yourself in a room, turning the lights off," Barbieri said. "Only as an incredible last resort, fight back."
The Fairview Hospital active shooter training comes as the number of mass shootings and the victims they claim have drastically risen across the United States in recent years.
According to several websites, the number of mass shootings has been in double digits every year since 2015 with the country's two deadliest attacks occurring during that time.
The definition of a mass shooting depends on the criteria used by organizations that track such violent behavior in America. The FBI defines a mass shooting as four or more people killed in a single event; Gun Violence Archive views a mass shooting as four or more people killed or injured.
By the latter definition, that would include the deadly shooting on the Bard College of Simon's Rock in Great Barrington nearly 30 years ago. On Dec. 14, 1992, Simon's Rock student Wayne Lo killed two people on campus and wounded four others.
Immediately following Sunday's training, those assigned to help assess the response met with hospital and police officials.
"We're not trying to find fault with anyone, but find out if something in the [response] plan doesn't work," said Lucy Britton, registered nurse and emergency management director at Berkshire Medical Center.
Another evaluator, Jeremy Van Deusen of the Southern Berkshire Volunteer Ambulance Squad, has found over the years that any organization's emergency protocol can't be hard and fast.
"In fluid situations like [an active shooter,] you need flexibility in how you respond," he said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233.
This story has been modified to correct the number of injuries in the 1992 shooting at Simon's Rock.
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