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The St. Helens School District and Columbia River Fire & Rescue collaborate on training.

COURTESY PHOTO: ST. HELENS SCHOOL DISTRICT - PoliceSgt. Evin Eustice speaks to St. Helens School District's first responders group. With an eye toward engaging with the community, the St. Helens School District has been teaming up with Columbia River Fire & Rescue to help firefighters get practical, on-scene training experience.

As one of the buildings at St. Helens High School is eventually torn down to upgrade the school, firefighters will get a chance to be on scene to get experience at that structure.

St. Helens School District Superintendent Scot Stockwell says firefighters had a similar partnership when the old middle school was torn down.

"When we tore down the middle school to build a new middle school, Columbia River Fire & Rescue came in and did some training, put holes in the roof," Stockwell said. "They're planning on doing a very similar thing to the high school when we're getting ready to bring that down as well."

Stockwell added, "Because the school (building) is going to be demolished, and being replaced, they (fire crews) can go in, break doors down, cut holes in the roof and practice those type of things."

Stockwell said most of Building A is going to be coming down as part of the upgrade made possible by passage of a school bond in May of 2020.

He noted that Buildings B, C and D were built around 1980, while most of Building A hasn't changed much since the late 1950s.

"It (Building A) is in pretty bad shape," Stockwell said. "The majority of Building A needs to be just torn down. It's not cost-effective at this point to remodel. That's why Building A is coming down, and our fire and rescue are going to go through it, poke holes in it, and do whatever they need to work on training."

Stockwell notes that the only pieces of Building A that will not come down are the music and choir rooms, cafeteria, auditorium and gym spaces.

Stockwell says this on-the-scene fire training is part of a wider effort to partner with the fire district and the area police agencies.

"We regularly allow police and fire to train in our facilities," Stockwell said. "Just last week, we had the St. Helens police training at Columbia City Elementary School."

Stockwell said, "The district hosts quarterly breakfast meetings for all first responders where they learn about different ways to protect our schools. During the breakfast meetings, they work through tabletop scenarios so school administrators and first responders are on the same page in the event of an emergency."

Principals, law enforcement, and fire and rescue will meet, said Stockwell, and talk about how to keep schools safe. As an example, mixed teams of first responders from across the county and school leaders meet in groups to discuss how to react to an active shooter situation.

"The goal is to have patrol officers, firefighters and rescue folks show up so we can talk about how our building administrators are going to engage with them," Stockwell explained. "We know that if there is an emergency, the cavalry is coming. Everybody is going to come from all different stations. We want our principals to know who those people are so we can work well together."

Jennifer Motherway, recruitment and retention coordinator as well as public information officer with Columbia River Fire & Rescue, is pleased with the collaboration.

"It's a great connection there and it's a good community effort, for sure," Motherway said. "It's good all around for our community to see that we do have that connection and relationship with our school district to do these local opportunities."

By engaging in this community effort, Stockwell says, "It really enhances taxpayers' investment in not only schools, but also law enforcement and fire and rescue."

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