BARRON COUNTY, Wis. (KMSP) - In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Texas church, congregations across the country are on alert.
The Barron County Sheriff's Department in western Wisconsin is hoping to prepare churchgoers and others, in case of a worst case scenario.
"If the shooter is not by you, you should always run,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. “Run is what we teach."
Fitzgerald and his staff conduct active shooter training seminars across the region. In workplaces of all types and sizes, schools and churches, they try to make it as realistic as possible with airsoft guns and cushioned rubber balls to mimic life and death situations.
"It can happen anywhere at any time,” said Fitzgerald. “That's why in Barron County, Wisconsin, in northwest Wisconsin, in Minnesota, you have to be prepared at any moment. It's sad to talk about. But it's the reality. We need to keep talking about it and keep practicing."
Six months ago, the sheriff's office brought its PowerPoint and simulation drills to Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake. On Sunday, a gunman stormed a Baptist Church in a tiny Texas town, killing more than two dozen.
Pastor Craig Rayment says the church wanted staff and volunteers to be prepared for any and all emergencies that might happen inside a worship hall that hosts some 1,300 members for a typical weekend service.
He explained there are now organized team leaders and people willing to step up in communication roles to get people out of the building as quickly as possible.
"We don't live in fear, but we want to be prepared and care for the people that come, just be ready,” said Pastor Rayment.
As for the sheriff's active shooter program, it's based on a national curriculum that stresses spreading the word quickly about the threat: the who, what, where and then providing people with the tools to react without hesitation.
"What's the difference between the moment you fight and the moment you run?” said Fitzgerald. “When last resort, we teach fighting as the last resort. Not some Ninja skills or anything. Throw the stapler, the fire extinguisher, the coffee cup - whatever it is. Whatever you need to do to survive."
The Sheriff's training is a free service in Barron County. He and his staff have done more than 70 presentations all across the region. He says he wants participants’ biggest takeaway to be: react in the moment, don't freeze.