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Safety in numbers (Firefighters, police practice handling chaotic, violent situation)

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Safety in numbers

Rio Rancho Police Officers Clayton Reid and Allison Gokey protect Rio Rancho firefighters and “victims” as part of the Rescue Task Force during a crisis exercise Thursday at the National Guard armory.

A car runs over a group of pedestrians as a homemade pipe bomb explodes down the hallway of a nearby building, leaving many people injured or dead, and that’s just the beginning of the violence.

This was part of an active-shooter exercise held at the National Guard armory just north of the Mariposa neighborhood last week.

Rio Rancho Police and Rio Rancho Fire Rescue departments worked together on this exercise, to ensure better communication between the two departments if they have to work together in the event of crisis.

“We have been doing this type of training since Columbine (school shooting) occurred in ’99,” said police Capt. Ron Vigil. “Both the police and fire rescue departments realized then they were a bit off on their timing when it came to organizing together at that time, so since then we have been doing annual training in order better work together in any incident.”

Vigil said every year this training has taken place, both departments’ response times have improved.

“We look at the tragic events that have occurred across our country and see what we can do here in Rio Rancho to be prepared for this type of situation,” Vigil said. “Often times we look at how an incident was handled and see if we can improve upon it.”

This type of exercise breaks down departmental barriers and expectations, and allows police and firefighters to get to know each other on a face-to-face basis, he said.

According to Vigil, when both departments combine in a crisis scenario, they are referred to as a rescue task force.

“When we do this, we are able to administer aid in a quicker, more timely manner,” Vigil said.

Jessica Duron-Martinez, fire inspector and spokeswoman, said the training allows firefighters to get a closer view of the action so they can help not only injured civilians but also injured officers.

Safety in numbers

Firefighter engineer Norman Michel carries a dummy used to simulate a patient during the training.

“Because of this, we will be able to extricate an officer out quickly if an injury does occur, to the hospital at the same time as other injured individuals,” Duron-Martinez said. “When this type of situation occurs, the police don’t have time to pull people out. They can’t put their gun down or their head down because a shooter may be around the corner.”

She said the police are the eyes and ears for the fire department because they are busy rendering aid in these scenarios.

Theresa Greeno, city emergency programs manager, organized the exercise. She said the planning happens six months to a year in advance, with several meetings to organize who can participate when.

“We go to great lengths to ensure both departments have access to this critical training exercise,” Greeno said. “We try to make it as real-world as possible, with sirens, loud noises, and we try to create an atmosphere of chaos.”

She said the more responders practice these scenarios, the better equipped they are to handle the real thing. She also pointed out that volunteers who have been asked to play the part of victims help make the training that much more authentic.

“We have many stand-ins with different injuries that responders have to asses when they arrive on the different scenes,” Greeno said.

Vigil reiterated the importance of using this type of exercise to create certain plans, not just for an active-shooter scenario but for any crisis situation.

“It’s a bigger picture than just active-shooter training,” Vigil said. “It’s every critical incident we may face that we prepare for with this time we have together.”