First responders at STEM

'We've practiced for this'

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First responders descended on STEM School Highlands Ranch within moments of the initial 911 call, said South Metro Fire Rescue spokesman Eric Hurst, and years of training paid off.

“We've practiced for this,” Hurst said. “It's about following the experience we all have, and applying it to a real-world worst-case scenario.”

South Metro joined forces with Aurora Fire Rescue, West Metro Fire Rescue, Denver Fire Department and ambulances from as far away as Bennett and Strasburg.

All told, 79 vehicles, 148 fire and medical personnel and three medical helicopters responded to the scene of the May 7 shooting that left one student dead and eight injured, Hurst said.

The emotional toll of responding to a mass-casualty incident can be intense for first responders, Hurst said, but in the moment, their training takes over.

“It's really beyond just doing tasks like applying tourniquets,” Hurst said. “Through our training sessions, they get accustomed to screams and sounds of gunfire. In the aftermath of the incident, when we have time to unwind and the adrenaline dissipates, that's when the impact sinks in.”

South Metro provides all its personnel with resources to deal with the trauma of horrible scenes, Hurst said, including peer support members, post-traumatic stress service dogs and mental health professionals.

Years of coordination with other agencies was evident during the shooting, Hurst said.

“This was a regional response,” Hurst said. “We were calling on neighbors to come and back us up. I'm thankful for them, and thankful we didn't have more injuries than we did.”

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