(NECN: Jack Thurston, Fairlee, Vt.) - Several hundred firefighters, EMS personnel, police and school administrators packed a conference center in Fairlee, Vt. Friday. They came to meet Jay Ruoff, one of the first emergency response planners to reach the mass murder scene inside Colorado's Columbine High School 14 years ago.
Ruoff told the New England Division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs that every school in the region should meet with fire and police officials to build relationships and map out potential responses to major crimes in schools.
"We have to be prepared in every way to be able to deal with an incident of this magnitude," Ruoff said.
Mike Kell, a high school principal in Windsor, Vt.. told New England Cable News his community has taken significant steps in recent months and years to improve school safety. He also said he is glad police from across his county took part in a recent mock emergency drill in Woodstock, Vt. But Kell said he still wants to conduct a safety audit inside his school to find out if there are ways guns or other threats could get inside.
"It's just peeling that onion back and looking at all those facets of school safety," Kell explained. "And there are a lot."
This week, advocates for gun control cheered when the U.S. Senate paved the way for debate to begin on the most sweeping gun legislation in decades.
"We are the 100 Senators elected to represent more than 314 million Americans," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wrote in a statement encouraging debate on gun topics including background checks. "We are accountable to them, not to special interests lobbies on the left or the right. They should not dictate what we do. We do not need their permission to pass laws to fight crime and improve public safety. That is our responsibility. I urge all Senators to be less concerned with special interest score cards and more focused on fulfilling our oath to faithfully discharge the duties of our offices as United States Senators."
First responders NECN talked to said the Senate debate is a good conversation to have, but they suggested attention also needs to be paid to address root causes of violence, including mental illness.
"There's just not a single answer to the problem," said Chief Stephen Soares of the Windsor, Vt. Police Dept. "And I don't think we'll ever find an answer to the problem, because human beings are subject to having frailties of human beings."
"There are a lot of guns on the market, and if somebody wants to get a gun, they're going to get a gun," Ruoff warned. "That's my personal feeling. I don't think we're going to stop these kinds of shootings."
But Ruoff said he is optimistic more training and building teamwork between agencies will help, should a crisis erupt at school.