Training for crisis

LAKE PLACID – Police and emergency personnel gathered here this week to learn some critical skills and techniques for responding to an active shooting incident.

Law-enforcement agencies from across the North Country took part in the active shooter training, which was held at the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center on Old Barn Road. Participants included members of New York State Police; the Essex, Clinton and Franklin County sheriff’s departments; Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid police departments; and state Department of Environmental Conservation officers and forest rangers, as well as EMS personnel from across the region.

The training was coordinated by the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. Bob Stallman, acting director of operations for the state Preparedness Training Center, led the two-day sessions, held Monday and Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday. About 30 people participated in each session. Stallman said the training focused on scenarios in which two officers arrive at a location where a shooter is at large in various settings, like a school, office building or a mall.

The science center was a good fit, Stallman said, since it consists of office space, cubicles and long hallways.

“What we do is we tell the officers what the scenario is,” he said. “An example is: It’s an office complex, a disgruntled employee returns, starts shooting, may have hit one or two people, one of the employees calls 911 and says, ‘There’s a shooter in the building.’ Then the officers arrive, and they deal with whatever presents itself during that scenario, whether there’s currently shots being fired when they come in, or it’s quiet and they have to kind of search some rooms and find the shooter. And then eventually some shots will be fired, and they go and find the shooter.”

State police Lt. Patrick Ryan, assistant commander of Troop B, Zone 3, said the training had two parts: a classroom phase and live training. In class, participants were taught techniques to use when responding to a situation involving a live shooter. Then they geared up and practiced applying those skills in live scenarios.

The media was invited to watch parts of the training on Thursday. Some of it wasn’t made public because law enforcement officials didn’t want to reveal their response tactics to would-be criminals.

Participants paired up and simulated a response to a shooting inside the building. The trainees moved rapidly through a hallway – one leading, one following – as an instructor gave directions and encouragement. Before turning a corner, they stopped, checked to make sure their path was clear, and then proceeded into a room, where shouting could be heard. Outside of the room, another instructor fired a fake handgun, prompting the trainees to exit the room and move in the direction of the gunfire.

Forest ranger Capt. John Streiff said this sort of training often requires law-enforcement agencies to travel downstate, so it was nice to be able to stay close to home.

“It’s very realistic training that they put you through,” he said. “You feel like you’re really in the situation that they want you to mimic in real life. The instructors and the role players who assist up here do a really great job. It’s been very well received by the officers who’ve taken it so far in the last two days.”

The weapons used during the training are modeled after the standard police-issued Glock. The magazines are loaded with “projectiles” – fake bullets topped with non-toxic, colored soap.

“Everybody thinks it’s lipstick or gel – it’s just soap,” Stallman said. “So if you get it on your clothing or walls, with a little bit of water, it suds right up, comes right off. … But they do come out at about 450 feet per second, so when you get hit with them, you know it.”

Tupper Lake police Officer Wesley Hoyt said the training was intense.

“The last time I did anything like this was in the service, and that was 23 years ago,” he said. “This is very good training.”

Hoyt said he hopes he’ll never have to use the skills he learned, but some of them are still applicable to everyday situations, like safely entering a room when responding to an emergency call.

Streiff and Hoyt said the recent shootings in Herkimer didn’t play a role in their decision to do the training.

“I would have taken this regardless,” Hoyt said. “An active shooter is something every police officer needs to deal with. Especially in our schools. Look at it this way: I have kids in my school, but every kid in Tupper Lake is mine. So even after my children have graduated, those kids are still my kids. I think this is great training and every police officer should go through it.”

Stallman also said Herkimer didn’t change the mindset of the officers who did the training.

“Herkimer didn’t play that much of a difference with what the police already know: that it can happen anywhere at any time,” he said.

This is the first time DHSES has used the Lake Placid science center for training, although the state police Special Operations Response Team has used the building in the past.

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or