Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade on Thursday stood before a room of 20 school nurses and asked them to remember back to the beginning of their careers.
“How many of you thought when you started that you’d have to take a class to prepare you for a school shooting?” Wade said.
No one raised their hands.
“It’s unfortunately an all-too-common occurrence now,” Wade said of mass shootings. “You have to be willing to do what you’re trained to do.”
During a six-hour class Thursday, the Calhoun County School System nurses heard from medical professionals about the best wound-care techniques to use when treating people injured in a natural disaster or mass shooting.
“That may mean you have to walk past some kids,” said John Hollingsworth, EMS program director at Gadsden State Community College. “That’s going to be hard to do, but you have to do it to get to children you can save.”
In the event of a mass-casualty situation, whether it’s natural or man-made, the school nurse is likely the only trained medical professional in the building, Hollingsworth said. Wade said that when police enter a building in a shooting, they move past the dead and injured.
“Our one goal is to stop the threat,” he said. “And sometimes EMS won’t enter a scene until it’s been cleared by us. That can be hours sometimes.”
That’s where the school nurse can be the best help, Hollingsworth said.
“You are the best source of information,” he said. “You can let us know how many ambulances we will need, when you rendered aid and how you rendered aid to a victim.”
Randy Reaves, director of safety for Calhoun County Schools, reminded the nurses that their first priority in the event of a lockdown is to hide.
“Protect yourself, because if you don’t, you can’t help anyone else if you’re dead,” he said.
Typically, Reaves reminds school staff to stay in their locked classrooms and offices until a law enforcement official or school administrator unlocks the door.
“If you have children with you, stay with them,” Reaves said to the nurses. “But if you’re by yourself, and you think the threat has been eliminated and you want to help, well that’s a personal decision. I’ll leave that up to you.”
In the afternoon on Thursday, the women gathered at Saks Middle School, where they were asked to check a hallway and classrooms for victims of a tornado and a shooting.
Gadsden State students lay in the hallway with mock injuries. In teams of two, the nurses moved through the school checking white cards that listed a patient’s respirations, pulse and mental status. Based on that information, each team had 30 seconds to assign the student a colored ribbon to denote the level of injury.
Some students sat upright and talked to the teams as they moved, earning a green ribbon, to denote easily treatable injuries, or a yellow ribbon for injuries that need attention at some point. Other students remained silent with arms and legs splayed out, earning a red ribbon, meaning the student needed immediate medical attention, or black ribbon for those that had fatal injuries.
“As a nurse and a parent, it’s good to hear there is a plan in place, that law enforcement and other first responders are working with the school system and have a plan,” Angelique Pitts, a systemwide nurse, said.
Pitts said she felt most parents wouldn’t know that their children’s school officials participate in training courses like the one she went through on Thursday.
“I only know because I work for the system and I’m doing it,” she said. “So I think it’s great this has been offered to us today.”
Kirsten Fiscus: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @KFiscus_Star.