The Chatfield Fire Department escorts one of the missing children as part of their fire drill.
The Chatfield Fire Department escorts one of the missing children as part of their fire drill.
"We were told there were two kids inside, and we found the two who were missing and then searched the rest of the building," said Chatfield Fire Chief Keith Bradt, recounting how Chatfield's police, fire department and ambulance service responded to a non-fire at Chatfield Elementary School late in April. The emergency services personnel went running into the building in spite of the fact that there was no smoke, no flames, just a lawn full of unoccupied students who knew exactly where their missing classmates were and that they were in no distress whatsoever.

Payton Berg and her older sister, Isabelle, were escorted to Chatfield's ambulance for rehabilitation after firefighters found them hiding in classrooms as part of a "live" fire drill conducted in cooperation with the Chatfield fire, ambulance and police departments.

Bradt said, "The schools do so many drills each year, and they usually evacuate the building, take count of students - usually, they just have a master list, go out into the parking lot, make sure that all the students are accounted for and wait for the bell to ring for them to go back inside. But we were told there were two kids inside, and we resolved that, searched every room of the building with five different teams, and we found two people. From the time we got paged to the time we were out of the building, it was 22 minutes. It went really well."

Bradt stated that the staff all worked together and that it was all good and easy to work with the staff to get everyone out.

He added, "If it were the real thing, there would be a hundred times the excitement and it would be harder to do, but it's good that we get to practice and get the kids used to the EMTs, the police, the firemen and the fire trucks."

Next year, the services plan to do this in October during Fire Prevention Week, instead of in April.

The fire department also conducted a drill at the high school on Wednesday, April 24, and coordinating with the school administration to organize both drills took some time.

"We met with the school on two different occasions. We coordinated what we were going to do with the fire department officers for two hours to decide what was the best way to go about it, and the rest of the firemen had been training for this throughout the year," Bradt said.

The fire department and the school had to make some investments before being able to carry out the school building drills, as the school had to supply keys to two storage rooms, and the fire department uses a key fob system to keep track of which firefighters are inside a burning building, meaning additional fobs were necessary for the drill.

"We had to get maps and color code them according to where we wanted to search and we needed more keys and key fobs to do four to five different areas of the building," Bradt also explained. "Every time we do a drill, we learn something new, get ideas so that by the next time this rolls around, we have more on how to make the search happen."

He commented on the firefighters' availability during what was a work day. "One thing about drills...all the firemen who did that took off work, all their employers let them do this to prepare in case something were ever to happen, and it takes quite a certain amount of dedication and time to do this. We've already had 16 or 17 calls and 15 training events this year."

Bradt added that a lot of the firemen have kids in the schools and they want to know the safest way to get them out.

"It's a small community, and we all know all of the children and staff," he continued. "We want it to go as smoothly and efficiently as possible."

Bradt also expressed his appreciation to the school district and the community for their cooperation.

"It shows that not only do the fire department, ambulance and police work together, but it shows the willingness of the school to allow us to do this during the school day," he added.

Chatfield Ambulance director Sue Kester stated that the ambulance service "stands by the same as we would in a real situation."

The ambulance service's participation shows the community that the service is prepared for and involved with school safety throughout the school year, as well as acquainting students with the ambulance as a friendly medical bus.

"We are prepared and want to work out any issues in a drill, rather than having a problem if a real situation were to occur," Kester explained. "The students know what to expect - I think it lessens anxiety for the kids."

Furthermore, Kester cited that emergency medical technicians learn through putting their training into practice. "It prepares us for rehab and mutual aid, and we are prepared to assist when and where needed."

Kester commended those involved for coming to the schools' aid. "We have a great fire department and Chatfield is fortunate to have the volunteer firefighters as well as volunteer EMTs. Many hours of training are exercised to keep both services prepared to help our community. The drills at each building went very well - I think the schools have good plans and are prepared. The fire and police departments were timely, efficient and very well prepared."

In agreement, Chatfield Superintendent Ed Harris reported there were no significant issues that arose during the fire drills, as the district holds fire, tornado and lockdown drills at least once a month, sometimes more, between the various types of drills.

"Our fire evacuation routines are well established and efficient," Harris added. "The buildings can be emptied and kids accounted for in the matter of just a few minutes. We feel that with some advanced discussion about the drills, the younger students know what to expect and will have less anxiety when the fire and police department personnel are on site."

He went on, "I think that the recent live drills at both buildings are good indicators to the community that the school district, fire department and police department work well together and are willing to put forth extra effort to make sure we are as prepared as possible in the event that there is an emergency."

Harris concluded, "The safety of our children is a continuous conversation and the city emergency services and the school district cooperate extremely well in maintaining effective procedures to help ensure the safety of our students."