WHEAT RIDGE, COLO. - A building that served as an elementary school for nearly 60 years has been transformed into a training facility for first responders, providing a realistic environment where they can learn to save lives.
The Jefferson County School District shut down Martensen Elementary for students in 2011.
For a few years, the school sat empty. It took some money and a vision to transform it for its next group of students.
“We’ve staged every classroom to look like real classroom,” John McDonald said, District’s Executive Director of Safety, Security and Emergency Planning. “We turned it into a facility for first responders where training on response and tactics can occur in a closed environment.”
New students flooded the halls and classrooms, a bit older than Martensen Elementary was used to for 57 years.
But just as eager to learn, maybe even more so. Because for them, a lot is at stake.
“You can’t replicate this environment anywhere else,” McDonald said. “I want them to walk into an environment, understand what it is, what it’s going to look like, who they’re going to be saving. Who they’re going to be protecting -the most innocent. Our most precious resource.”
“It gives us a realistic environment to work in,” Sgt. Michael Touchton said, with the Arvada Police Department. “We’ll be able to have our officers understand the environment they’re in and the limitation or the things that they can take advantage of.”
McDonald said 17 agencies from across the nation have used the school for training this year, including bomb techs, SWAT teams, school resource officers, federal agencies and Navy Seals.
This week, Arvada Fire was training with Arvada Police.
They’re swapping expertise so they can work well together on their worst day.
“Firefighters are helping us with our first aid and trauma care, that tactical casualty care, working on tourniquets, stopping blood, wound packing,” Touchton said. “We’re helping them with their tactical gear they’re going to deploy with to protect them. So we can get those firemen and their skills and their equipment to those people quicker than waiting for a scene clear or waiting for the whole building to be controlled before we bring them in.”
Touchton said Arvada Police and Fire are the first agencies in Colorado to have come this far with their mutual training, as well as policies and procedures.
“In 2012 when we started looking at this, we understood we were on the cusp of something great,” Touchton said. “We saw what was happening around us and we’ve been able to be the third agency in the United States to put something together like this that is working at this level, that is ready to go tomorrow should this happen.”
In a dedication ceremony Wednesday afternoon, the building was named the Frank DeAngelis Center for Community Safety.
Frank DeAngelis is painfully aware of the need for a place like this.
“This is really monumental,” he said. “A great place to train people and to hopefully to prevent these shootings from happening.”
He was the principal of Columbine High School.
“I can't think of anybody that has been more dedicated than Frank DeAngelis to protecting their community,” McDonald said.
When DeAngelis showed up for the school’s dedication April 19, he thought this was just a dedication of a new school with an important purpose.
He didn’t yet know, his legacy helped build it.
“Hence forth this building is now called the Frank DeAngelis Center for Community Safety,” McDonald said. “When I thought about what are we doing here, what is this purpose, he was the only one I could think of that I really think we needed to honor.”
Eighteen years ago, DeAngelis made a promise.
“I made a vow that evening that I'm going to spend the rest of my life going out and speaking on their behalf and on school safety,” he said.
It's a promise he's kept and one that's inspired others to do the same.
“This facility really epitomizes what school safety should be about,” DeAngelis said. “Thank you, thanks from the bottom of my heart.”
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