Robert Kirby: Active shooter training was my fright night

Robert Kirby

Most jobs require training. It can be prolonged and even expensive training — doctors, scientists, lawyers, etc. But few jobs require such diverse training as law enforcement.

Emergency medical care, traffic crash investigation, childbirth, gunfights, unarmed defensive tactics, search and rescue, riot control — it’s a huge list. Whatever comes next is unknown, but you have to be ready for it anyway.

That’s what I was thinking last week during an “active shooter” training with the Herriman Police Department Citizens Academy.

It was the Herriman police chief’s idea that I participate. While talking to a few officers about training, I told them that I still remembered some of what I learned during my own time behind a badge.

Chief Troy Carr overheard it and decided I needed to update my training. He invited/ordered me to be at Herriman Junior High School one evening last week to participate in an active shooter drill.

Active shooter, mass shooter, senseless massacre — whatever you want to call it — is something I never trained for as a cop. Back then, we trained for things like gas station robberies and felony traffic stops.

Times have changed. Instead of just shooting the clerk or a hated spouse, shooters now seem to want to kill as many people as possible in order to go out in a blaze of gory glory.

Herriman Officer Jose Lopez was in charge of the training. I would enter the scenario as No. 3 police officer responding to an active shooter call at a local school. He gave me a realistic handgun.

Me • “Um, I don’t know if this is ... ”

Jose • “It’ll be fun. Go on. Don’t get shot.”

I didn’t learn much. Here’s what I remember: screaming, students running, gunfire, charging up stairwells, more gunfire, being grabbed at by bloody victims, closer gunfire, and ultimately confronting the shooter(s).

Jose put me through the scenario three times. I didn’t do well. I’m older and slower than I was back in the day, and far more easily annoyed. Pretty sure I got killed/shot in the first two. But by the third it seemed that I was catching on.

The last time through, I was No. 2 officer in the stack behind Chief Carr. We entered the maelstrom again, dodging our way through the hysterical mob and up the stairs toward the gunfire.

Being in better shape and more recently trained, Chief Carr beat me to the shooters and took them both down, including one who was holding a gun to the head of a hostage.

I arrived out of breath with the scene still active. The two shooters, armed with assault rifles, were writhing on the floor. The screaming wasn’t over. Neither was my part.

What if this had been real? This was the junior high my grandchildren went to. Suppose one of the bodies I had jumped over had been one of them?

OK, they wanted real. I gave them real. I went to both wounded shooters and shot them three or four more times as they lay on the floor. There. If not trained better, I at least felt better.

It took a long time for me to get to sleep that night. A lot had been dredged up that I thought had been safely stored away. The sounds and the smells of reality came back.

When I finally did get to sleep, it was with thoughts of the men and women driving around in the middle of the night in case something like that were to actually happen. I’m glad they’re prepared for the worst. Because I’m not.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.