April 30, 2008


Tiny town helps train for big trouble

Tiny Town

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Emergency crews from Cortland and Tompkins counties trained Tuesday night at Tompkins Cortland Community College with a miniature town. From left, Jessica Verfuss, Tompkins County assistant fire and emergency management director; Jason DeRaiche, HazMat coordinator at Cayuga Medical Center; and Jim Drew, a Dryden firefighter.

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Dryden fire safety officer Jim Drew found himself in a tough situation Tuesday night.
He’d gotten a call from county dispatch about a car on fire outside a KFC restaurant, but when his crews responded, they reported taking gunfire from the restaurant.
Fortunately, Drew’s “crews” were moving small toy cars through a scale model of a city as part of an emergency services simulation for officials from Cortland and Tompkins counties Tuesday night at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“It’s an opportunity to see things from a different seat,” Drew said. “You get to step back and see things from a different angle.”
The call, which started as a car fire, quickly developed into a multiagency situation.
The simulation included emergency responses from Tompkins County fire and police agencies, emergency medical services workers and business owners, and was meant to help emergency responders learn to work as part of a joint-response team in the case of a major crisis.
Two representatives each from police, fire departments and EMS worked as teams of a commander and an aide to manage each scenario, said Bob Duell, Cortland County’s director of emergency services.
Instructors from Onondaga Community College’s Public Safety Training Center orchestrated several scenarios, which included the KFC sniper situation, using dozens of toy cars on a miniature city built on a 4-by-16-foot board.
The city featured detailed buildings — houses, a school, a power plant — plus roads, a highway and a section of train tracks. As each scenario developed, OCC facilitators moved tiny police cars, ambulances and fire trucks around to represent the developing situation. Instructors in another room played the roles of 911 dispatchers and units on the scene.
In the sniper situation, Drew had to move his command station away from its initial location, which was across the street from the restaurant.
His radio crackled — “We’ve got a man down … he’s bleeding bad, we’ve got to get him out of here.”
When the dust settled, police had “neutralized” the shooter, and Drew’s firefighters were able to move in to douse the car fire that had drawn them to the scene.
“Fire, you got there first, and there really wasn’t much else for you to do once you had those shots fired,” said Peter Alberti, commissioner of Onondaga County’s Department of Emergency Management, one of the course instructors.
“Don’t let your procedures fall apart,” Alberti told the class.
Lee Shurtleff, Tompkins County’s director of emergency response, said this is the first time the five-day course has been offered here in about 10 years. “This is a great opportunity to pull together the entire public safety community,” he said.
He said the idea behind the course is to train emergency workers in every department to work together to provide a “coordinated, integrated response” to high-pressure situations.
The course also emphasized the importance of working with business owners, who can provide crucial information about unforeseen hazards in their facilities.
Since the last time the course was offered, Shurtleff said the focus shifted to human-created disasters — in other words, terrorism.
“It’s (the course) been refined a lot since then,” Shurtleff said. “There’s been a shift in some of the priorities and training.”
OCC awards certificates for completion of the course, which counts toward required annual training for police officers, EMTs and firefighters.
Duell said the course cost about $6,000 to hold at TC3, but that in the future, Cortland County will host similar training for free.
Shurtleff hopes to hold similar classes in Tompkins County starting in August.
“We always train for the worst possible thing,” said Drew. He said he was not too rattled by the radio report of shots fired as his teams were trying to put out the car fire at KFC. “We were rudely interrupted.”