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Colo. officials share lessons of Columbine

January 22, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

LINTHICUM, Md. - "Let our pain be your gain" was the message police, fire and rescue officials from Littleton, Colo., delivered at a seminar attended by local emergency services personnel and law enforcement last week.

The seminar was sponsored by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute University of Maryland, and brought officials from the Littleton, Colo., Fire Department, Colorado Bomb Squad and Colorado Sheriff's Office. They gave first-hand accounts of last April's shootings at Columbine High School and lessons learned from it.

In the April 20, 1999, incident, two heavily armed students killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 others before taking their own lives.

"In this case, there were lives lost," said 1st Sgt. Randy Wilkinson of the Washington County Sheriff's Department. "But the message they were trying to get across is that it wasn't in vain if people learned from it."

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The discussions focused on conditions in the school during rescue efforts; communication problems and coordination challenges between the multiple police, fire, and rescue agencies; resource limitations and effects on personnel; the investigation; and bomb disposal and related events that had an impact on emergency services.

Wilkinson attended the event at the Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies, with several Washington County Sheriff's deputies.

Maryland State Police and fire and rescue personnel from Washington County were also present.

Wilkinson said he benefited from hearing from those who experienced the tragedy so closely.

The seminar drove home the need to promote communication between police, fire and ambulance personnel and the Washington County Board of Education, he said.

"There's a need for each agency to intermingle where they never had before," he said.

Periodic drills combining the agencies help them prepare for such emergencies, he said.

Bob Cumberland, administrative planner for the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association said he found the event enlightening.

"Unfortunately, any disaster like this is useful to other people," he said.

He echoed Wilkinson's concerns about communication between local agencies.

"Something like that could happen anywhere, and we have to work together," said Cumberland.

The best way to prevent shootings and other violent incidents is for parents to pay attention to their children and notice changes in appetite, mood or behavior, said Wilkinson.

"You have to be in tune with what your kids are doing," he said.

Internet use should be monitored, said Wilkinson, who serves as a liaison between the sheriff's department and the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

"We will train and try to prepare, but the only thing we can really do is pray it won't happen here," he said.

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