Greenwich joins multi-town disaster training

April 7, 2018

There are certain skills that no first responder ever wants to use, but must be prepared to employ — including those needed in the event of a mass casualty incident.

A contingent of Greenwich police officers recently joined other emergency-service personnel from Fairfield County in three days of specialized, hands-on mass casualty training at Fairfield Regional Fire School to practice how to handle these types of situations.

The highly realistic training scenarios prepare police, fire, medical technicians and dispatchers to work together in the event of a major disaster, such as a plane crash, a bus accident or a shooting rampage.

“We’ve done this for a long, long time,” said Greenwich police Lt. John Slusarz.

The recent simulation was an offshoot of ongoing monthly training for local emergency responders sponsored by the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. The group’s next monthly session will be Wednesday in New Canaan. In the last, responders were trained in hemorrhage control.

Because of Greenwich’s location, first-responders in town have repeatedly trained for disaster scenarios involving dozens or hundreds of casualties.

“We have three highways going through the town, Metro-North, and an airport next door. That’s a lot of transportation infrastructure. We need to be prepared for mass casualties,” Slusarz said.

The weekend training event, which took place March 27 to March 29, simulated an active-shooter scenario. The focus was developing the skills needed for police, fire, medical and communication units to work together.

“The training is important to make sure all the players are trained for interoperability,” the lieutenant said.

Greenwich emergency personnel could be deployed in another jurisdiction if needed, so training with colleagues in the region helps improve communications.

“The training is designed to provide first responders with the dynamic of … active shooters, hostile events,” said Bill Ackley, a Stamford EMS captain and an instructor for the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, who helped lead the training efforts.

The initiative is federally funded through a national preparedness program at no cost to states or communities, Ackley said.

About a dozen different agencies from Connecticut were represented at the recent drills.

“It sounds kind of odd to people that police, fire and EMS need to practice to work together,” Ackley said. “They think they work together on a regular basis.”

But typically, fire or EMS personnel are initially on the outskirts of a situation while police handle it. But, Ackley said, in a large incident — like a mass casualty — it’s all hands on deck.

“It’s important to learn to integrate what each agency’s responsibilities are,” Ackley said.

On the third day of the course, first responders practiced four active shooter drills, said Bridgeport fire Capt. Giovanni Sanzo, one of many first responders to participate in the training.

“The police had a real person (shooter) that moved throughout the building,” he said. “There were live ‘patients’ with injuries, for fire and EMS to treat and care for. Ambulances were brought in to simulate bringing a patient out of the building and into an ambulance for transport to a hospital.”

Scott Bisson, the director of training for Fairfield Regional Fire School, said the program used mannequins and live actors with special effects makeup to simulate realistic victims.

“This is extremely realistic, hands-on training that brings all disciplines together in a unified command structure that we hope will never need to be used at scenes of active violence,” Bisson said.

He stressed the importance of practicing before an incident takes place.

Sanzo said the fire department was fortunate to participate in the training.

“The Bridgeport Fire Department has recognized the unfortunate growing need for its members to be prepared to respond to an active shooter,” the captain said.

During the course, Sanzo said, police were trained on how to enter the scene, stop the attack and provide quick lifesaving medical treatment to victims. Fire and EMS worked to integrate with law enforcement efforts to form “rescue task forces.”

“The RTFs are designed to allow medical and fire personnel to enter a scene under police security,” Sanzo said. He said treating the victims before moving them can increase their odds of survival.

In Norwalk, police Lt. Terry Blake said it was an easy decision to have members of the police department attend the three-day ATIRC training in Fairfield.

“We have always had members attend these events,” said Blake.

That city developed a response plan for emergency situations — including mass casualty incidents — in 2016. It was done in collaboration with Norwalk’s fire and police departments, emergency medical services and the office of emergency management.