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Pinellas Park High students practice safety skills in mock ISIS attack

PINELLAS PARK — The bang went off about 8 a.m. Wednesday, and the students sprang into action.

Luke Eliason, 17, and his squad charged into the parking lot hauling a first aid kit, ready to survey the damage.

He was one of 56 Pinellas Park High School seniors participating in "Disaster Day," designed to teach teens in the first-responder magnet program how to handle a large-scale emergency. In the past, students have triaged a mock tornado, plane crash and collision between a school bus and a fuel truck. All disaster scenarios came from students in the class, said the program's instructor, Dale Koning.

This year's theme? Bombs, detonated by ISIS associates at a made-up theme park called Patriot Park with the slogan "The most patriotic place on earth."

"Florida would be a target because of all the different cultures and tourists that it brings in and all the nations that are represented," said 17-year-old Tanner Lawrence, the student who came up with the idea. "It's something real that would scare a lot of people that we really have to worry about."

That's the point, Koning said: for the situation to be as realistic as possible.

The high school didn't hold back. In the parking lot, students, some of them from the drama department, covered themselves in red syrup mixture made to look like blood and gashes that looked a little too real as they sprawled out on the asphalt. Eliason and the three other members of Squad 3 knelt beside the victims, surveying their injuries and tying colored bands around their wrists to signify the state of their conditions. Green meant minor, yellow was more serious but still okay to walk, and red meant critical. Black? Well, that was reserved for the mannequins.

"We've got to move her," Eliason said of a girl with a particularly bad leg wound. "She's a red."

He and one of his squad members, 19-year-old Nhi Phan, carried the girl across the parking lot to a first aid area, passing by their fellow students practicing firefighting, decontamination and other safety skills.

"Everything we're doing we've done over the last four years," said squad member Seirra Miller, 18.

For Miller, the day was another step toward graduating and pursuing her dream to become a nurse at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers. Miller said several girls in the program want to be nurses, including Phan, who's planning to attend St. Petersburg College. Eliason wants to be a firefighter in Tampa, like his dad, a job he feels he's been well-prepared for in the program.

The fourth squad member, Joey Ford, entered the program with the desire to become a pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard. He changed his mind after taking a career test that pointed him toward engineering. But the program still teaches usable skills, he said. Just recently, after he got in a motor scooter accident, he corrected his mom as she was putting bandages on his arms.

"I was like, 'No, Mom, you're doing it wrong.' And I put them on myself," Ford, 17, said.

At the firefighting station, where Eliason helped his team put on bunker gear, an update came from the public information officer, Kelly Ho, 18. They were up to 100 victims, she said, with some buried under the debris from a bomb detonated in the theme park's parking garage. And one of the bombs may have released a harmful chemical.

Soon, Squad 3 was zipping up Hazmat suits, ready to hose down some of the victims in blow-up kiddy pools. Ford lagged behind, fumbling with his sneaker before making a startling discovery.

"There's blood in my shoelaces," he said, referring to the fake blood used by the victims.

His classmates stood by, sweating in their suits, and laughed.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

PINELLAS PARK — The bang went off about 8 a.m. Wednesday, and the students sprang into action.

Luke Eliason, 17, and his squad charged into the parking lot hauling a first aid kit, ready to survey the damage.

He was one of 56 Pinellas Park High School seniors participating in "Disaster Day," designed to teach teens in the first-responder magnet program how to handle a large-scale emergency. In the past, students have triaged a mock tornado, plane crash and collision between a school bus and a fuel truck. All disaster scenarios came from students in the class, said the program's instructor, Dale Koning.

This year's theme? Bombs, detonated by ISIS associates at a made-up theme park called Patriot Park with the slogan "The most patriotic place on earth."

"Florida would be a target because of all the different cultures and tourists that it brings in and all the nations that are represented," said 17-year-old Tanner Lawrence, the student who came up with the idea. "It's something real that would scare a lot of people that we really have to worry about."

That's the point, Koning said: for the situation to be as realistic as possible.

The high school didn't hold back. In the parking lot, students, some of them from the drama department, covered themselves in red syrup mixture made to look like blood and gashes that looked a little too real as they sprawled out on the asphalt. Eliason and the three other members of Squad 3 knelt beside the victims, surveying their injuries and tying colored bands around their wrists to signify the state of their conditions. Green meant minor, yellow was more serious but still okay to walk, and red meant critical. Black? Well, that was reserved for the mannequins.

"We've got to move her," Eliason said of a girl with a particularly bad leg wound. "She's a red."

He and one of his squad members, 19-year-old Nhi Phan, carried the girl across the parking lot to a first aid area, passing by their fellow students practicing firefighting, decontamination and other safety skills.

"Everything we're doing we've done over the last four years," said squad member Seirra Miller, 18.

For Miller, the day was another step toward graduating and pursuing her dream to become a nurse at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers. Miller said several girls in the program want to be nurses, including Phan, who's planning to attend St. Petersburg College. Eliason wants to be a firefighter in Tampa, like his dad, a job he feels he's been well-prepared for in the program.

The fourth squad member, Joey Ford, entered the program with the desire to become a pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard. He changed his mind after taking a career test that pointed him toward engineering. But the program still teaches usable skills, he said. Just recently, after he got in a motor scooter accident, he corrected his mom as she was putting bandages on his arms.

"I was like, 'No, Mom, you're doing it wrong.' And I put them on myself," Ford, 17, said.

At the firefighting station, where Eliason helped his team put on bunker gear, an update came from the public information officer, Kelly Ho, 18. They were up to 100 victims, she said, with some buried under the debris from a bomb detonated in the theme park's parking garage. And one of the bombs may have released a harmful chemical.

Soon, Squad 3 was zipping up Hazmat suits, ready to hose down some of the victims in blow-up kiddy pools. Ford lagged behind, fumbling with his sneaker before making a startling discovery.

"There's blood in my shoelaces," he said, referring to the fake blood used by the victims.

His classmates stood by, sweating in their suits, and laughed.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Pinellas Park High students practice safety skills in mock ISIS attack 04/06/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2016 10:44pm]
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