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Huddled in the vehicle maintenance shed across the street from the Phillips 66 refinery entrance, Career Center students from Senior, West and Skyview high schools were told just how to act.

"Don't be afraid to yell, moan, even scream," Jeff Ashworth told them. "In real life, it's gonna be painful — act like it."

The high school students, along with volunteers from Wells Fargo Bank and some community service groups, were gathered to play the victims in a mock gas-leak disaster drill held at the refinery Wednesday morning.

"We do it every two years," said Ashworth, chairman of Yellowstone County Local Emergency Planning Committee, which coordinates the event.

The code name for the operation is COYOTE 2012, which is short for “County of Yellowstone Operating Together in an Emergency.”

The drill allows emergency responders and agencies to test their plans in an effort to improve services and to ensure the public receives the highest level of service possible.

In all, 58 actors were on scene Wednesday morning — many of them the SD2 Career Center students — dressing up in refinery jumpsuits and painting up in theater cosmetics to simulate wounds.

Katie Bunch and Shelby Summerlin are juniors at West High and art students. Along with others from the their class, the duo spent the morning dressing up wounds and applying gallons of fake blood — the first time either of them had done anything like this.

"I did half the knee," Summerlin said, pointing to classmate Cate Hanna, who had been made-up to look like a head-wound case with a busted knee.

They loved working with the makeup.

"It'd be so cool for Halloween," Summerlin said.

Josie Pinch, a senior from Senior High, along with friends Kayla Wanner, Madison Schwarzkoph, Emma Shankle and KC Christensen, were assigned to be in the red group, representing victims with the most life-threatening injuries.

All of them are in the medical careers program at the Career Center and looked forward to the chance to play victim and eventually hospital patient.

"It'll be good to see what it's like," Pinch said.

But also they had practical concerns. Wanner complained about how ticklish she is and worried about breaking character as the emergency responders were treating her.

"They'll touch my arm and I'll start laughing," she said.

Ashworth said volunteers are sometimes hesitant to fully embrace their role as victims — they can be a little self-conscious, he said. But once they get in makeup and see the responders coming, they get into it.

"These people end up being great actors," he said.

The volunteers laid on the roadway on the grassy lawns in front of the refinery, waiting for emergency responders to come treat them. As a chemical release was part of the drill, the Billings Fire Department's hazardous materials response team set up washing stations and treated the victims.

At the decontamination stations, students were cut out of their jumpsuits and then scrubbed down with soap and water. From there, they were transported to the hospital.

Greg Neill, emergency preparedness coordinator for Riverstone Health, was glad to see such a large number of volunteers show up Wednesday morning. It means the hospital emergency rooms will be overwhelmed.

"They want to be taxed in the emergency room," he said.

Neill said every time they stage the drill, crews learns something new. It's the reason they keep doing it.

"It's an important exercise," he said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.