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Students get Vail Valley rescuers ready

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Eagle-Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyMembers of the Eagle County Special Operations unit enter a room in the old Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail where hostages are supposedly being held. Avon Police officer Phillip Florio, left, acting as a hostage holder, aims a fake gun at them
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EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – It’s Friday morning inside the old Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail, and 15-year-old Rylee McMillin is taking acting directions.

Specifically, she’s getting the low-down on what to do when the camo-clad, gun-wielding policemen come toward the counseling office where she’s waiting.

“If you hear them coming, you just run out with your hands up, screaming,” Avon police officer Ken Dammen said.



“I want everybody in there screaming,” Dammen continues, turning his attention to the five other students who have agreed to play hostages. ” ‘Don’t shoot me! Don’t shoot me!’ You can do horror movie screams, whatever.

“We want to try to produce some chaos because that’s what a situation like this would be like.”



Police say they want to be ready in case they ever need to rescue a hostage. That’s why the Eagle County Special Operations Unit enlisted the help of Battle Mountain students on Friday to practice negotiating with bad guys and saving hostages.

“Any time somebody in the community takes a hostage and isolates themselves in a room or a home or a building, that’s what this training is specific to,” said Mike Bosley, lieutenant of operations for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

The training comes less than a week after police received a call about a hostage situation in Wildridge. As it turned out, a man who had barricaded himself in his Wildridge home Saturday night had not taken any hostages (his wife escaped safely from a different part of the house, Avon Police Chief Brian Kozak said), but the incident added an extra layer of relevance to the hostage training.



Behind the book return counter in the library, students were in mock trouble. They sat with Battle Mountain High School Principal Phil Qualman, back to back in a circle, yellow caution tape circling their bodies.

A cell phone rang, and their captor (Avon police service officer Matt Jamison) pretended to negotiate with police – “I just went through a divorce” he lamented at one point. Things escalated, though, and a team of camo-clad men ran in and shots Jamison “dead” with red paint pellets.

During the drill, negotiations lasted for a few minutes, but in real life, police may negotiate for much longer.

“We will negotiate for three weeks with a suspect if we have to,” Avon Police Lt. Greg Daly said.

The special operations unit conducts hostage training about twice a year, Bosley said. The unit consists of 31 members from the Eagle, Avon and Vail police departments, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, paramedics from the Eagle County Ambulance District and doctors from the Vail Valley Medical Center, he said.

For students, playing hostage offered a glimpse into police work.

“It was really cool,” said Rylee, who wants to be a paramedic someday. “I feel like if it ever really did happen, I could be safe and I know they would save my life.”

Battle Mountain High School Senior Karen Nolasco wound up with the hostage gig because she’s an intern at the Avon Police department.

“I was really excited because I’ve done a mock disaster in the parking structure,” she said, noting she had been wanting to play hostage to help with police training.

When it came to picking hostages, Qualman said he selected students who are interested in law enforcement.

“I thought it was valuable for students who are interested in law enforcement to see a different side of the profession,” he said.

Staff writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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