A man waving a double barrel shotgun walked in the front door Saturday afternoon of Yampa Valley Bank in Craig, demanding answers and threatening danger.
“I want to know why all my family has lost their jobs and the house,” he said, as he herded a group of hostages into the center of the lobby. “It’s all the bank’s fault. Who’s in charge here?”
He shot two of the tellers and made more demands.
Fortunately, however, gunman Doug Vaughan wasn’t really an armed madman, the shotgun was plastic and the people representing hostages were only actors participating in a training exercise that involved nearly all Moffat County emergency services.
Once a year, the Moffat County Emergency Management Council organizes a training exercise to test protocols and cohesion among several agencies, including the Craig Police Department, Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, Craig Fire/Rescue, The Memorial Hospital EMS, Search and Rescue and dispatch.
EMC vice chairman Dan Bingham said the kind of exercises on display Saturday are vital to local emergency services and their ability to respond to mass casualty events.
“If you do things like this, it’s under these stressful conditions,” Bingham said. “This is the way they have to work together. We try to bring as many services together as we can and let them execute it.”
This year, the EMC decided to shake things up a bit.
Just after the silent alarm in the bank was triggered, dispatch received reports of a suspicious person at Craig Middle School, and the release of a possibly hazardous chemical.
Two ambulances that were used for victims at the middle school were contaminated with a mysterious chemical, and therefore, couldn’t be used to transport victims at the bank, if needed.
It’s problems like these that Police Chief Walt Vanatta said get ironed out during training scenarios.
“This particular drill was designed to stress command structure with another incident going on over at the middle school,” said Vanatta, who acted as the incident commander Saturday. “We established our command post, and broke the commands into two so the fire chief was in charge of the middle school and law enforcement handled the bank.”
At the bank, things were heating up.
Vaughan, who is not a professional actor but a member of the Search and Rescue team, refused to talk to hostage negotiators and refused to let one of the injured tellers seek medical help.
He was marching one of the hostages around with the imitation shotgun pointed at his back.
At that moment, the Special Response Team barged into the bank, armed with riot shields and guns with red laser sights attached.
Vaughan “shot” a hostage in the chest before he was taken down by the joint team of police officers and Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Although a hostage was injured when SRT entered the situation, Vanatta said the team diffused the situation as best they could given the circumstances.
Serving as incident commander from a communication post located next door to the bank in the Kmart parking lot, Vanatta was assessing information of the seriousness of the two wounded tellers’ conditions, the mental state of the shooter and other factors.
He said the SRT team was sent in at that time for a reason.
“He broke off negotiations,” Vanatta said. “And there was a definite change in his tone. That’s just kind of one of the risks you run when you make a dynamic entry.
“It’s very unfortunate.”
As the SRT team members made their way back to their cars for a debriefing, Vanatta congratulated them on a job well done.
“It went really well,” he said. “It’s not a pass or fail thing. It’s a learning experience.”
Bingham hosted a debriefing for the actors and a discussion with the evaluators of each incident to asses what went wrong and what changes could be made in the drills to improve them.
Each agency will use their notes from Saturday to improve protocols and learn from their experiences in a live exercise.
“These guys all have to work together in unison, and there is a flow to it,” Bingham said. “Everybody has a little part, but it’s an important part. This helps us see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
“We could have an incident like this tomorrow.”