Framed by a flashing ambulance, firetruck and the smashed scene of a staged car crash, students in the fire, EMS and criminal justice departments at Garden City Community College moved and met in small packs of peers with similar uniforms, evaluating the accident.

Fire and EMS students had just arrived and all officers in training were still deciding what to do next.

“They saw that they needed EMS and fire … so now the idea is all that three disciplines have to figure out how to work together,” said Department of Public Safety instructor Brandy Unruh. “So we’ll see if they can figure it out.”

Similar faux-scenes, organized by instructors and starring drama students or mannequins, would pop up around campus in the hours to come. From 7 a.m. to noon, students sat in a makeshift dispatch in the John Collins Vocational Technical Building waiting to be called to the sites of homicides, missing children and pets, a stolen purse, car and chicken, all part of the Department of Public Safety’s annual Scenario Day.

For the next week, students will review the cases and draw conclusions, but the morning’s events all had one purpose: give GCCC public safety students a chance to experience the fast-paced jobs they are pursuing.

The day is built as a safe space for mistakes, and students made them. Criminal justice student Dawson Spresser said some people stepped on evidence, others did not bring enough tape or evidence collection bags. Sometimes response times were slow, said Morgan Withington, another criminal justice student.

Back at the fake car crash, student firefighters spent most of their time cutting open a car to reach the dead-on-arrival mannequin victim or tear off the hood to check the engine. Neither tactics were the most efficient.

“I’m going to let them struggle and then we’re going to talk about this,” Fire science instructor James Daly told his colleague, Larry Pander, laughing.

Some students were working with their peers in other fields for the first time, a vital crossroads because, as Unruh said, everybody knows what their job is, but they don't know the intricacies of the other agencies' jobs.

At the crash, the student firefighters had to learn to take control of the scene when they arrive. To-be police had to learn to step in to salvage evidence, Unruh said. Everything is a work in progress.

Messing up is expected, Unruh said. The lesson is how to act and move forward despite mistakes.

“All I want them to get out of it is ‘You can recover from a mistake. It can be overwhelming, but what did you do when you got overwhelmed?” Unruh said.

Snippets of the day reminded students why they wanted to become first responders in the first place. There’s an unpredictability to the work, said criminal justice student McKenzie Haar-Becker, and an adrenaline to it, said EMS student Sarah Kraft. During Scenario Day, students got a false alarm call of a gorilla on campus. What other job would you get a call like that?

Students come to the job for different reasons. Spresser can’t imagine working a desk job, Withington and EMS student Amy Edmonds switched careers and were hooked. Kraft and criminal justice student Emma Smith wanted to help people. All of that is wrapped up in Scenario Day.

An overwhelming rush of collaboration and quick decisions that, when done right, brings justice, solace, healing, safety or peace.

“I think one thing people need to understand is that you can’t really go away from it once you actually try it,” Kraft said. “Once you start, and if you can handle it … you just keep going,”


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