Sonora: Where there’s smoke, there’s no fire

By Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat March 14, 2013 08:11 am

If you see smoke pouring out of Sonora High School’s Centennial Hall and humanities buildings Saturday, don’t panic — it’s all part of a senior project. 

Sonora High student Austin Lunde has coordinated a drill for Tuolumne County emergency personnel to take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.  

Firefighters, ambulances and even a helicopter will respond to a staged “mass casualty incident” at the school. 

Lunde said he’s bringing six or seven smoke machines into the Centennial Hall and humanities buildings to simulate the appearance of a fire. 

“It’s as close as you can get to the real situation without putting fire in the building,” he observed. 

Students covered in fake blood will be assessed by emergency personnel and taken to Sonora Regional Medical Center.

Lunde estimated that more than 100 emergency responders will be included in the drill. Participating agencies include the Mi-Wuk and Sonora fire departments and Tuolumne County Ambulance. 

About 20 volunteers will be “injured” during the mock ordeal. 

And in what may prove the most dramatic part of the project, Sonora High Principal Todd Dearden will suffer an “amputation” and be airlifted by helicopter to the Columbia Airport. 

Dearden joked that Lunde enjoyed including him in the scenario. 

Lunde initially wanted to stage an “active shooter” scene in which emergency and law enforcement personnel responded as they would in a school shooting. 

However, local agencies were reluctant to participate in such a project, and Lunde switched to the fire drill. 

“He didn’t let go, and he’s put in so much more work than other people would do,” Dearden said.

Lunde is the son of Kara and Robert Lunde, of Sonora. He intends to study firefighting at Columbia College next year. 

“I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was 2,” Lunde said. 

His senior project mentor, Neil Gamez of the Mi-Wuk and Sonora fire departments, can attest to that fact. He said Lunde’s mother has been bringing him to visit fire stations since he was a toddler, and he’s a familiar face to local firefighters. 

Gamez also said he was impressed by the scale of Lunde’s project. 

“The dynamics of it — people three times his age haven’t pulled off drills like this,” he said. 

Lunde takes classes in Sonora High’s wildland firefighting program. Sonora High firefighting teacher Craig Konklin and emergency first response teacher Jackie Potts have both helped plan the drill. 

Dearden said Sonora High’s annual “Every 15 Minutes” event, which stages car crashes, leads to 911 calls from concerned community members. 

The school isn’t able to notify the community about “Every 15 Minutes” because the scene is designed to catch students off guard, Dearden said. 

However, he and Lunde are hoping to alleviate concern about smoke on campus Saturday by disclosing the drill beforehand.