By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Tuesday, Jan. 3 was a tense morning in Newkirk as a convoy of Newkirk Fire/EMS vehicles raced down the street toward Newkirk Public Schools (NPS), an intensity of flashing lights stopping all motorists on the road. There were myriad law enforcement troops who also arrived at the scene, a scary sight to the average onlooker who had no idea what was going on, a potential school shooting in a small, rural community. To a degree that was happening, but more specifically, it was an active shooter training drill for those first responders, and teachers, to have a better understanding of how to address such a dangerous situation should it occur in Kay County.
The event was planned and executed by Newkirk Fire Department (NFD) and Police Department (NPD) and included responders from agencies across the county. Law enforcement agencies arrived from Newkirk, Blackwell, Ponca City, Tonkawa, Fort Oakland (Tonkawa) and Arkansas City, along with Kay County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Otoe-Missouria Tribal Police and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Fire/EMS teams were from Newkirk, Ponca City and Blackwell, along with Kildare and River Road volunteer fire departments.
“I think it went really well,” said Chief of Police Kevin Main. “This is the first time we had multiple participants, as well as we had teachers involved with it as victims.”
Fire Chief Adam Longcrier is equally satisfied with the event.
“We didn’t have any major issues popping up,” he said. “We saw some things we need to work on, but we feel confident with our abilities, that if it were to happen, it would go as smoothly as it can.”
A large group of first responders met at the First Baptist Church parking lot earlier in the morning, waiting for the call to approach the event. The active shooter began the rampage at Newkirk Middle School (NMS) just after 9, when Newkirk agencies received the call from the school.
“At approximately 9:07 is when the scenario started, with initial response going out to our office and Kay County,” Main said. “That is when we asked for assistance from additional agencies.”
Once the Newkirk team arrived, they set up a rendezvous point near Apple Market to control the scene.
“We were able to set up a command center almost immediately, and the NFD was dispatched to the location as needed,” Main said.
The suspect was soon located and “killed” in the parking lot on the south side of the school. No real ammunition was used in the training, and no real injuries were sustained, although there were several participants who were “shot” in the training, some fatally.
“During the initial search, the suspect was found, and he was killed,” Main said, adding that it was about 9:17, only 10 minutes after the scenario began.
Authorities soon entered the school in search of victims.
“At that time, the Rapid Task Force entered the building. By 10:30, victims had been taken out of the building, and moved the survivors to a new location,” Main said.
The active shooter drill concluded by noon, and first responders were debriefed following the event.
School officials are satisfied with the event happening on the NPS campus, as it showed that the school is working with community leaders to be prepared for such an event.
“I thought having the emergency response crisis drill at NPS was a great opportunity for our teachers and staff to get experience for an event that hopefully will never happen,” said Superintendent Scott Kempenich. “The only way to know how to respond to these tragic events is by practicing these scenarios.”
It wasn’t the first event at NPS; another shooting drill took place at Newkirk High School in 2020, and the Newkirk trainings are only two of many events held across Kay Country for responders.
The NFD has long been training for violent scenarios, including wearing bullet-proof vests, even on ambulance runs. There has also been increased training with law enforcement so EMS crews can assist, even beyond ambulance runs to the hospital.
“We started these practices about six years ago, and we have trained side-by-side with the KCSO for planning for these actions,” Longcrier said. “We will go in with officers when shooting is still going on. Ten years ago, it was unheard of that firefighters would go in the ‘hot zone’ while shooting is still going on.”
In addition to NPS, training scenarios have also taken place at Blackwell High School, Conoco66 and the District Attorney’s office, among other locations.
What made the most recent training scenario unique is that it included actual participants beyond first responders, with NPS teachers and staff performing the role of either a teacher or student, some being described as actual victims, and some were pronounced “dead” at the scene.
The participants met in the NMS gym prior to the event.
“We had a meeting in the gym to talk about what to expect, and what the protocols would be,” said Vocal Director Elizabeth Odom. “NMS teachers were sent to our own classrooms, and the other teachers were divided between the classrooms.”
As the shooting began, there was much noise within the school, although participants didn’t always know who was firing weapons – the shooter, or law enforcement.
“At first, it was a little bit confusing, because we wanted to make sure we knew what we were hearing – did someone drop something or was that a shot?” she said. “Knowing it was a simulation made it not scary, but trying to understand if it was an actual gunshot, that was scary.”
Newkirk Elementary School Pre-K teacher Sadie Rowe played the role of a student, stationed adjacently in the band room.
“We heard the shots and went into the (band room) office and took cover,” she said.
The training was greatly important for everyone involved, especially the responders, who see it as an opportunity to improve their response protocols.
Longcrier saw a few points on which to improve, but overall is optimistic with the training.
“In a situation like this, the school’s on lockdown, so finding a place to treat the patients is a priority,” Longcrier said. “Where we picked to place the patients, we had to find a new place for that.”
He added that bags they use on ambulance calls, what he referred to as ‘mini ambulances,’ or ‘go bags,’ need to be increased for each ambulance for multiple victims in a similar scenario. The bags contain everything from gauze to chest compression packs, items they would use at a house call.
School representatives also saw the training as important.
“There was a whole list of things I soon thought about, so having those protocols that apply to my classroom, knowing what they are, it makes it easier to draw in the situation, instead of the panic of, ‘What do I do now?’” Odom said.
Rowe added, “I think it helped us realize the process and protocols, especially if someone were injured, or how long would we be in the building. It gave us a key idea of how long it would be before the police came in.”
NPS is already on the forefront of shooter training for the students, so that everyone, from administration, to teachers all the way down to students are now in better understanding of how to respond in that situation.
“School security drill practice and reporting is important for the safety of our students and our staff,” said NMS Principal Wendy Terrazas. “Drill reporting is required for all public schools in the state of Oklahoma.”
Longcrier is optimistic that the training is working, and that they understand what first responders can do should an event happen, making it safer for all entities in Kay County.
“Having the (minor) problems we saw Tuesday are good problems to have, because it means we have trained so much, and so many times, we can do this more easily, which is good, because the big problems, they are not there, we have them down pretty good,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re perfect in a situation like this. We know what we’re doing, and those problems would not be the case if something happens.”