As a Patrick Henry College senior and member of the Purcellville Volunteer Fire and Rescue squad, this student shares a unique perspective on the recent Loudoun County Active Threat Response Drill.
I was on call at the station. Why is Campus Safety calling me? I stared at my phone as it buzzed persistently in my hand.
Oh, right. They’re announcing the drill. I laughed at the irony of it and looked around the bay.
We had been at the station for roughly two hours now checking our equipment, receiving instructions, donning highlighter yellow safety vests, and finally gathering by our units to wait. In some sense, we must each have been waiting for something different. Sure, we were all going to be dispatched to the Active Violence Drill at Patrick Henry College. But while some were wondering how the scenario was going to play out, others were speculating as to what their specific role would be. I was waiting for the moment when two of my worlds would come together.
Halfway through my junior year at PHC, one of my college friends had encouraged me to consider joining Purcellville Volunteer Rescue Squad. Even though my class and work schedules were already demanding, I desperately wanted something new to do—something different from the PHC realm of papers, classic literature, and business casual. So without giving it much thought, I submitted the paperwork, attended an orientation session, and stepped into the world of first responders.
“You’re going to be one well-rounded EMT,” someone teased when she found out I was both a PHC student and a rescue squad volunteer.
Inwardly, I wondered if she was right in poking fun at me. Besides making me awkwardly late to class a few times, my first responder role didn’t seem to overlap much with my role as a PHC student. Translating Xenophon’s Anabasis wasn’t going to help me splint an arm any better, and knowing how to backboard a patient wasn’t going to help me understand the deep philosophical discussions that the PHC community loves to engage in. Finding the right balance between the two worlds was interesting to say the least. The past year and a half was filled with moments when my two worlds unexpectedly collided, whether while trying to focus in class through the adrenaline rush of the last call or being out on a call knowing that back on campus lecture was already in full swing.
So on the day of the drill when I stepped out of the ambulance and onto the PHC campus, I was half expecting there to be an obvious disconnect between the first responder culture and the PHC student culture. In the blur of action that followed, slapping bandages, tourniquets, and triage tags on moaning “victims,” I couldn’t help but notice that the fact that we were all playing an imaginary role was the very thing that was connecting us as we worked together through the scenario.
Possibly the most eye-opening moment of the day occurred while transporting two of the victims to the hospital. For a few moments, the scenario was laid aside and conversation between my crew and the PHC students turned to everyday topics. I stood back and watched my two worlds come together.
Roles aside, there wasn’t much of a difference between all of us. We were just a handful of random people stuck in the back of an ambulance trying to find something in common to talk about.
By the time we had finished running through the scenario, my head was swimming with information and events to process. Walking in through the back door of the BHC, my crew joined hundreds of other first responders in the gym to debrief. Once again, I inwardly laughed at the humor of the situation. Here we were filling up the bleachers in work boots and uniforms in a place that’s often used to host formal audiences attending concerts and commencement ceremonies. Yet, to be completely honest, we didn’t quite seem out of place. After all, the only difference between the two audiences is their role in the community.
For first responders, scenarios and drills such as this one teach us to identify our strong and weak areas and to work to improve our overall response quality. On a personal level, this drill taught me much more than that. Our role in the community is just a subset of our role as human beings. At the end of the day, what matters is not whether we excelled as students or employees; what matters is whether we gave our best for others.
On-duty and on-call staff are specially trained to observe and report on all matters related to campus safety and are immediately available to respond to and handle any emergency that may occur on campus. Campus Safety consists of both armed and unarmed officers who are trained and registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.