KENNEBUNK, Maine — Kennebunk police trained Feb. 19 for a situation they hope they never have to use.
During a 15-hour training program, held Feb. 18 and 19 at the Middle School of the Kennebunks, members of the police department participated in active shooter training, experiencing a variety of interactive shooter scenarios.
It was an unusual and somewhat unsettling scene during one of the scenarios as smoke filled the school’s gymnasium, where uniformed officers responded to the fictitious report of a shooter who had taken victims hostage. With guns drawn, police entered the gym to gunfire from the suspect and found the victims lying on the ground. In the background, a tape recording played haunting screams to further challenge those training.
“It’s certainly chilling. Most of us have kids that go through this school system or another. We really relate to it,” said Kennebunk Police Chief Bob MacKenzie, adding that with a number of school shootings throughout the country in recent years, police need to be “as prepared as we can be.”
“It’s only going to make us better,” MacKenzie said.
Simulated firearms were used during the scenarios, which are meant to come as close to a real life experience as possible.
The police were able to work out the location of the training with RSU 21, while the district is on February vacation, and three teachers volunteered their time, acting as victims being held hostage.
The training was conducted by officers from the Portland Police Department who MacKenzie said participated in a training program for active shooting situations through the Federal Emergency Management Agency Port Security Grant.
While just a few years ago police were trained to secure the building and wait for a SWAT team when responding to an active shooter situation, he said since then things have changed dramatically
“You go in and you eliminate the target,” he said. “We need to save lives. Every second counts.”
While the training was held in a school facility, MacKenzie said it could apply to officers responding to an office building or anywhere with an active shooter. He said the department plans to continue training annually.
“This type of activity could happen anywhere from a large city to a small community,” MacKenzie said.
Teachers who volunteered their time to act as victims during the training said their schools have protocols in place in the case of an emergency. Knowing that police are conducting training to help them in an emergency gives a sense of security, they said.
“Even though you know you are acting and it’s pretend, it still has a feeling of being real. It’s like wow, if this really were to happen,” said Sharon Sirois, a first grade teacher at Kennebunk Elementary School. “I’ve been teaching for 29 years and there has been quite a change over the years. It is sad that this is part of teaching now.”