There was a large number of law enforcement officers and vehicle in the Paullina area on Wednesday. Law enforcement and emergency rescue personnel from around the region gathered outside of Paullina Wednesday for a series of training exercises then. Some of the training revolved around active shoot scenarios.
O’Brien County Sheriff Bruce Devereaux tells us they were members of the area High-Risk Entry and Arrest Team or “HEAT,” along with other emergency responders, and they were doing some training exercises.
While it may have looked like an active scene from outside South O’Brien High School, the situations posed were nothing more than a series of interactive drills to prepare everyone from the High-Risk Entry and Arrest Team to local EMS personnel should an actual event take place in the area. The event was coordinated by Jared Johnson, O’Brien County emergency management director and Northwest Iowa Community College.
The multi-jurisdictional HEAT team is comprised of law enforcement officers from 30 member departments throughout northwest Iowa and southern Minnesota. Membership to the HEAT team is by invitation and HEAT Board of Directors’ approval. O’Brien County Deputy Dan Bracy has gone through all the training and is O’Brien County’s member of the HEAT team.
Specialties of the HEAT team range from the ability to pick a lock for peaceful well checks, to snipers, to paramedics and negotiators. It even has a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) component. The team consists of hostage negotiators, snipers, an administrative liaison, dispatchers, a medic, specialists in less than lethal munitions, entry specialists and a team leader. All members on the team are expected to complete a basic training course offered by S.O.T.A., an organization that specializes in training SWAT officers. The officers must maintain a high level of physical agility, and twice yearly are required to pass an agility course. Training is a high priority, and the team meets once a month for at least ten hours to train as a group. Every H.E.A.T. team member is expected to qualify with his or her particular weapon at least four times per year. Some of the situations for which the team trains include, active school shooters, hostage negotiations, school bus ground assaults, riot control, and school searches.
The team is available to all law enforcement agencies needing to resolve high risk situations for which regular officers may not be equipped. Some of these situations are, armed subjects barricaded inside a structure, execution of search warrants where there is the threat of firearms, and entry into structures where there may be large quantities of drugs or hazardous chemicals.
The Heat Unit was first founded in 1998 and has been operational ever since and is now available to nearly 30 agencies around Northwest Iowa and Southwest Minnesota including Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, O’Brien and Osceola Counties which were all represented in the training.
Before the training exercise began at the high school Emergency Manager Jared Johson held a meeting on safety during the training session and on the different kinds of equipment that would be used and on what could happen during the exercise. They asked for as many volunteers as possible to participate in the training situation. Everyone attending signed a weaver before they training started. Many were encouraged to watch the situations.
There was a total of three scenarios that were ran during the active shooter training. The first scenario was a single shooter and some victims. The HEAT team went into the situation some neutralizing the shooter and some securing the scene and getting victims safety to one area. This was to demonstrate the HEAT team’s response to a situation. The team had some issues with radio communication during the scenario.
The second scenario was again a single shooter but this one was modeled after the events that happened in the recent school shooting in Texas. The HEAT team breached the school working their way to where the shooter neutralizing the shooter and securing the scene. Then members of the HEAT team escorted local Emergency personal and law enforcement into the building to treat the victims and get the victims and dead out of the building to a triage area.
The third scenario had multiple shooters and hostages in multiple rooms. The HEAT team breached the building working their way to where the shooters were camped out with their hostages. The HEAT team breached one room where a shooter was neutralizing the shooter then did the same with the other two rooms. Local EMS and law enforcement were escorted into the building when the scene was secured to treat victims and to get them downstairs and out of the building to waiting emergency vehicles. Victims that were able to walk were escorted out of the building to a triage area.
The whole exercise was interesting to experience. The HEAT team guns were loaded with rubber bullets for the exercise and the bad guys were armed with fake guns. Everyone in the exercise were wearing safety equipment. HEAT member and Estherville Police Chief Brent Shatto said the rubber bullets would still hurt if anyone was hit by one.
Chief Shatto says the training was unfortunately modeled to some degree after the recent tragedies around the nation.
So, what do department and unit leaders expect participants to take away from this type of scenario Chief Shatto says “Situations like this are the best way to prepare emergency responders with hopes that the trainings will never actually have to be used. They never want to see anyone hurt but they have to prepare as law enforcement for the worse and hope for the best.” Shatto went on to say that if the public find themselves in a situation that there are things like the HEAT Tactical team available to a lot of our local agencies that their team members are trained and prepared for what may happen.” He went on to say “There also local law enforcement that are trained part of the training today was to help train the local law enforcement that aren’t HEAT team and EMTs and Fire agencies training today, what we want them to know is we are not sitting around doing nothing”
This was another training day for the HEAT team. Shatto says “They train every month anytime they can get their officers together to train and get more repetition in building clearing and in different situations they do” “We’ve seen different buildings and what they have access to and what they may respond to if there was ever an emergency situation.”
Shatto adds that it is also important for the public to know what do in the event of an active shooter situation which was also covered in a safety briefing.
When asked if he seen any need of improvement Chief Shatto spoke that there are always things they could do better at the end of every training they sit down and debrief about what went well and bad for the team members and for the team”
After they training event Emergency Manager Jared Johnson held a meeting to talk about the event and some different equipment available to keep students safe like a bullet proof backpack insert that goes into a backpack’s laptop sleeve.
Johnson spoke” I received good feedback after the exercise from the participants. One of our goals is to continue to educate people over the ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ response.”

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