Police, Fire Rescue prepare for the worst

Over the course of a few weeks, more than 600 first responders from the Port St. Lucie Police Department and St. Lucie County Fire Rescue will be challenged, forced to overcome emotions and focus on the task at hand.

The latest round of “active threat” training is taking place at Renaissance Charter School in Port St. Lucie – a place where several Port St. Lucie police officers send their kids. With the ever-climbing number of school shootings nationwide, it seemed fortuitous that Renaissance officials offered up their campus for the training long before February’s tragedy in Parkland, Fla.

“It pulls at our heart-strings,” said training coordinator and instructor Officer Jim Olson, especially when children are involved.

To amp up the reality of the training, an 11-year-old son of a Port St. Lucie police officer has been helping out. He’s been role-playing as an injured victim, calling out to the responders by name.

“That’s going to be a big hurdle” for the responding officers, Olson said. During the first day of training, a couple officers paused when the student called their names. The officers then continued on their way, hunting the bad guy.

But it’s that type of reaction that could easily change the course of the hunt. If the officers stopped, they might have been attacked, or the bad guy could have gotten away, or some other unfortunate result could have been realized.

“That’s why it’s so important to have this training,” Olson said.

The department schedules these active threat trainings every 14 months or so. In the past, they’ve trained at a church, a movie theater, and other locations that could be targeted for mass shootings. “This was almost the real thing,” Olson said, adding that the only thing not real was the ammunition – and the bad guy, who was played by a department instructor.

For the first time, the department is training with St. Lucie Fire Rescue.

“It seems much more efficient and effective,” Olson said of having Fire Rescue within the response teams. Police can focus on clearing the area and Fire Rescue can render aid to the injured.

“We’re all on the same page,” he said.

St. Lucie County Fire Rescue Chief Nate Spera agreed that the joint training is beneficial for his crew as well. Last year, the agency trained with the Sheriff’s Office.

The crew hadn’t before trained in a tactical active threat scenario, “so this was very new to them,” Chief Spera said.

Spera said one of his priorities is to ensure his crews are trained with all three agencies – sheriff’s, Port St. Lucie police and Fort Pierce police – so each agency knows each other’s place in the response.

“Whether blue uniform or green uniform, they understand our role,” he said.

Having all the agencies work together helps to reduce the level of chaos during what would already be a chaotic situation, he added.

For both Fire Rescue and Port St. Lucie police, the first responders are expected to set their emotions aside and deal with the task at hand, be it neutralizing the threat, clearing the area, or rendering aid to the injured.

“The best way to prepare is ongoing training,” Spera said.

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