First responders training exercise planned for Wednesday at Graham Middle School

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Jul. 18—BLUEFIELD, Va. — Police vehicles and ambulances with lights and sirens going and even aircraft will be focusing early Wednesday on a local school. It may look as if the worst has happened, but it's actually a training exercise preparing first responders to deal with major emergencies such as an active shooter.

On Wednesday morning, Tazewell County Schools, in partnership with Tazewell County Sheriff's Office, Bluefield, Va. Police Department, Tazewell County Emergency Services, Princeton Community Hospital, Bluefield ER and other emergency services agencies in Mercer County will conduct training in the Bluefield,Va. area, specifically at Graham Middle School, according to Major Harold Heatley, chief deputy of the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office.

Residents will see an increased presence of uniformed police, firefighters and rescue personnel during the day, Heatley said Monday.

"Citizens should expect a large number of marked police/fire/rescue vehicles, including aircraft, to be in the area with emergency lights and sirens activated," he said.

Sheriff Brian Hieatt said Monday that this training exercise was being publicized ahead of time to avoid alarming the public. Activities will start after about 8 a.m. Wednesday. People will start seeing emergency vehicles converging around Graham Middle School.

"We don't want people to panic and think there's been a huge disaster," Hieatt said. "We want to make sure people knew ahead of time what was going on."

Hieatt said the training exercise, which involves an active shooter scenario, should be finished around noon.

"We just think this was a good time to do it, with it being summer when the kids are out," he stated.

The exercise will help local first responders learn how best to work with each other, Hieatt said. Agencies in both Tazewell County, Va. and neighboring Mercer County will be participating along with the 911 centers in both counties.

"This is going to be a shooting scenario. We realize if something like that would happen, we would have not have enough rescue squads in one county. This is a joint effort to see how we can help each other," he said.

Volunteers will play the role of victims suffering different types of injuries.

"So, we'll have actual people with different wounds and different medical emergencies so they (participants) can figure out what to do with so many victims and multiple injuries," Hieatt said. "These are hard situations for law enforcement. You have to take out the threat even though you have people screaming for help."

The exercise will also let law enforcement and other participants who are not familiar with Graham Middle School learn its layout, Hieatt said.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com