Emergency responders ‘put everything to the test’ in collaborative training exercises in Turners Falls

  • A drone takes off to survey the locations of submerged plane debris during a training exercise near Unity Park in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Members of the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team receive instructions for their mission to extricate an entrapped person from a simulated plane wreckage during a training exercise near Unity Park in Turners Falls on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Divers engage in training exercises on Tuesday near the Turners Falls Rod and Gun Club. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Divers engage in training exercises on Tuesday near Unity Park in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Members of the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team travel up the Connecticut River on their way to a simulated rescue on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Members of the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team travel up the Connecticut River on their way to a simulated rescue on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Members of the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team rescue mock victims from a rock near the mouth of the Millers River during training on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Members of the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team exit the Millers River near the French King Bridge during training on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2022 4:28:52 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Emergency responders from roughly 15 agencies unified under the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team for a day of dive training and equipment testing in Turners Falls on Tuesday.

Response vehicles from municipalities across western Massachusetts packed the Turners Falls Rod and Gun Club parking lot to set up a base of operations before splitting up between four nearby stations. Using new equipment acquired through a two-year effort, team members trained via a dive operation and mock-victim rescue at Cabot Camp; a wide-area search simulation near Unity Park; and searches for scattered plane parts and crash victims both near Unity Park and at the Rod and Gun Club.

Divers in attendance included members of Massachusetts State Police, as well as Northfield and Hampshire-Franklin dive teams, according to the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team’s Deputy Director Jason Saunders.

“We have three dive teams to make sure our co-operability is good,” he said.

Exercise Coordinator Josh Shanley said acclimating these divers to new equipment, such as their sonar-equipped underwater ROV (remotely operated vehicle), is a matter of ensuring they “get the most done the most efficiently.”

“It’s a time-saver because we don’t have to put people in the water,” Shanley said of the ROV, which he described as “basically a drone on a tether.”

“Today is the day we’re putting everything to the test,” Saunders added.

Shanley explained that in addition to Tuesday’s training serving as an introduction to new gear, the training was as an opportunity for around 100 first responders from different agencies to build chemistry. Planning for the event, Shanley said, required a year of organization to ensure everybody could attend.

“There’s all of these different departments that all come together,” Shanley said. “These are the people and the equipment … that are going to be responding, so this is critical. This is time well-spent.”

“It’s nice to get everyone together and to see what other teams have to offer,” said team member Ben Graham, who also serves as a firefighter and paramedic for the Amherst Fire Department.

According to Saunders, in addition to the site’s proximity and easy access to the Connecticut River, the Turners Falls Rod and Gun Club has been an amicable host. In a lesser capacity, the rescue team had also used the site to test out water rescue equipment on June 7, according to the team’s Facebook page.

The four training sites featured simulated scenarios that were made realistic using mannequin plane crash “victims,” submerged aircraft debris and other elements that might appear in an emergency situation. In addition to getting adjusted to new equipment, first responders were tasked with resorting to alternative methods of aid during some of these exercises. One such simulation entailed a team of responders arriving at the scene of a plane crash and extricating a trapped person in the event that some go-to equipment is unavailable.

“If we didn’t have one of those, what other options are there?” Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team Training and Safety Officer Steve Chandler asked his trainees during the exercise.

“We’re trying to mimic all of the real-world elements here the best we can,” Shanley explained.

Hours into the day of training, Saunders expressed gratitude that “things are working really well.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Dan Corliss, a dive team member and captain of the Wilbraham Fire Department. “I think it’s long overdue. There’s so many water areas (in the region). With the call volume we receive every day, we need special teams to handle these tasks.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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