West Allis — Even though it was a drill, the thundering rifle blasts coming from somewhere on the floors above were chillingly real.
Imaginings went inevitably to the murderous rage that would be holding that gun if this was real life.
And the men and women of the West Allis police and fire departments were at that moment preparing to face the kind of murderous fire that has led to mass murders in communities across the country.
Police held shooter practices for about two months, turning the vacant Roosevelt Elementary School, 932 S. 60th St., into an office building/school/public building where a gunman or terrorist might attack.
The drills are critical and painstaking because the assignment is deadly. One police officer came back from a drill and reported, "I got shot in the chest."
Police used paintballs in confrontations with the mock gunmen.
Last week, police joined the fire department for the first time to practice getting injured victims out before the gunman had been cornered and dealt with. In the scenarios, police teams had already cleared the classrooms and hallways but were still searching for the shooter, so the rescue teams were still in danger.
Because of that, police and firefighter medics moved down the school hallways in tight formation — a line of police in front, guns bristling, medics next and more police behind, guns pointed back down the hall, ready for threats that might come from the rear.
Sometimes the team was making an initial sweep looking for victims and giving aid to those with critical injuries and then moving on. And sometimes the team was the rescue team knowing where the victims were and then getting them out.
When the tight knot of police and medics got to a classroom where there were victims, a tightly-orchestrated procedure followed. The medics flattened against a hallway wall. One police officer guarded at the front and another guarded the rear while the others entered the room, guns drawn. They checked out every hiding place before calling the medics in.
Then the police formed a ring around the medics and victim, handguns trained at every entrance. The medics wound a strip of plastic webbing around the victim, a dummy, so it could be dragged out.
Leaving the room and heading back down the hall with the victim in tow was another tightly choreographed affair.
There was a lot to remember. A training officer told one officer who was guarding the hallway while medics worked inside to step further back into the room to present a smaller target to a shooter who might emerge into the hallway.
Another trainer reminded the team of officers to stay together and not hit auxiliary entrances alone as the team swept a room.
When the rifle fire unexpectedly broke out upstairs, instinct took over and the police officers immediately formed up to go upstairs and find the shooter. But a trainer quickly shouted a reminder, "Wait, you're evac. Stay with the firefighters. A contact team will be dispatched," to deal with the shooter.
Although the firefighters wore bullet-proof vests, they were unarmed and needed police protection.
The police and firefighters didn't know what awaited them. Some classrooms held a shooter, one time a victim threw an explosive at them and another time the teams made their way through smoke so dense and disorienting that a man 20 feet away disappeared.
But overall, the trainers were pleased.
"Nice job, excellent," the trainer told one team.
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