Brookville Hosts ‘Community in Crisis’ Event

BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) — What were all the police cars doing at Hickory Grove? And, why did the helicopter land on the football field at the high school?

Those were surely some of the questions of those living in Brookville on Thursday afternoon; however, they weren’t the result of some catastrophe or mass shooting, but instead, a drill put on by the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services.

Tracy Zents (pictured below), the long-time Jefferson County Director, coordinated the event with Ruthanne Barbazzeni, principal at Brookville Area High School.

It is designed for educators in the school district, area police departments, EMS, and fire companies to respond to a simulated emergency, such as a mass shooting inside the school, to practice their techniques, and determine what areas they may want to have more training.

6:2:16 tracy zents-jeff co. dept. emergency servicesThe simulation included several gunmen inside the Hickory Grove Elementary School and law enforcement’s efforts to stop them. Flash-bangs and small firecrackers simulated gunfire and the stench and lack of visibility due to smoke from gunpowder.

“I want to thank everyone who participated here today,” Zents said. “We couldn’t do this without your involvement. When we do these type of exercises, we take what we learn today and correct any deficiencies and expound on our points where we did well.”

“It’s unfortunate we have to train and prepare for these types of events. Thirty years ago when I was here getting my diploma, I would never have thought of an active shooter coming into the Brookville area schools, but today we do.”

“The one thing I’d like to expound on to everyone is to continue to train, continue to plan, continue to prepare for these type of events. God help that it never happens in our area, or anywhere, but we have to be prepared to protect ourselves, protect our students, and everyone go home at the end of the day.”

Zents explained that each agency would file a report on the event, and there would be discussion on what areas need improvement.

Police officers from Brookville, Brockway, Reynoldsville, Sykesville, DuBois and the state police were present to assist in putting on the drill. Zents said that Punxsutawney’s department had planned to be there, but couldn’t due to actual calls that needed to be handled.

“This is great training for us,” said Sam Bartley, a member of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. “We can’t get enough of it. I just wish more school districts in the county would participate.”

STAT MedEvac and Jefferson County EMS ambulance service from Punxsy were present as well as the Brookville Volunteer Fire Company and Crystal Fire Department from St. Marys.

“It’s important for our guys to practice to be prepared for these types of events,” explained Steve Hoak of the Brookville Volunteer Fire Company. “If something would happen, you would see many more fire companies here. Since we are all volunteers, we never know how many of us are going to show up, so it’s important for us to be ready for these types of things.”

The MedEvac helicopter landed on the football field. STAT MedEvac is based at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, but also has two bases in the area, one in Clarion and another in Clearfield.

For Barbazzeni, she sees great value in the two drills that have been done at Brookville in the last few years.

“From this experience, you will have a sense of what to do and the holes that need fixed. I know there are a lot of things that you wouldn’t anticipate. The first time we did it, I was ready for the sounds of simulating gunfire, but I didn’t think about the smoke from the gunpowder.”

“I want to thank Tracy for all the work he put into this, and I want to thank all our participants here today,” Barbazzeni said.

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