ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MO (KPLR) – FOX 2 went inside a heart-racing experience for police, firefighters, and paramedics in St. Charles County, Wednesday: mass casualty incident (MCI)/active shooter training.
As we've seen in Kirkwood and Maplewood in recent years it's more than a matter of "what-if”.
Over a 2 week span this month, first responders from every jurisdiction in St. Charles County will go through what one planner calls sensory overload.
The rest of the world right outside the doors of a former Shop N Save in the O’Fallon Square Shopping Center has no clue about the chaotic world created inside the now empty grocery store.
Close to two dozen dead or wounded (mannequins and live volunteers) were scattered throughout a dozen, dark, smoke-filled rooms and nooks. Alarms were blaring. Victims were screaming. Gunfire was ringing out repeatedly.
Nearly 400 police, firefighters, and paramedics in St. Charles County will take part.
So far, the training has shattered expectations.
This time around they responded in waves, working together like never before.
“It was very heart pounding especially when the gunfire started going off,” said Cottleville Fire District Acting Captain, Todd Schmutz. “You hit the floor pretty quick, then try to get covered somewhere.”
He was among those tending to the wounded.
Police were multi-tasking, stand guard over everyone, while also going room to room pursuing the shooter and looking for more wounded.
“That are frightened, that are scared to death that are coming to them wanting help, even though they’ve been told stay here. That’s very difficult to do when you know there’s an active shooter in the building,” said Kyle Gaines of the St. Charles County Ambulance District.
Schmutz said the communication with police was amazing. These were groups of people who didn’t necessarily know each other or work together often inside a building they’d never set foot in up to that point.
“You start to learn to put things like that in the back of your head. You’ll recall it almost instantly when the stress really starts to come on,” Scmutz said.
He never dreamed he’d face gunfire when he became a firefighter 25 years ago.
The Line-of-Duty shooting death of Maplewood Firefighter, Ryan Hummert, and the Kirkwood City Hall massacre changed everything.
“What if I was there when this really happened?” wondered St. Peters Alderwoman, Terri Violet.
She’s was among the volunteer “wounded”.
“It’s very possible for anybody. We can be in a store. We can be in a grocery store. We can be in any building like this. When you hear the gunshots, it all starts to sound a little too real,” she said.
The first responders have also trained for tornados, even earthquakes in recent years.
Those who’ve gone through all the scenarios said this was the most intense and sadly, they feared, perhaps the most likely.