Local police, fire and emergency units participate in crisis training exercise

Curtis Brand, a diver with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, at front, readies his equipment for a joint preparedness exercise with other emergency responders at the Great Sacandaga Lake Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

MAYFIELD — The best way to not be caught off guard is to deal with the unexpected— ahead of time.

A range of first area responders met Saturday to handle a crisis as a team but they weren’t told ahead of time what the problem would be.

This year’s scenario was to deal with two people who dropped off unidentified packages at the Batchellerville Bridge in Edinburg, with one parcel having wires.

Involved were Fulton and Saratoga sheriffs departments, State Police bomb squad, fire companies and emergency medical services, Homeland Security and the state Naval Militia. They were being drilled on how well they handled the situation in a coordinated fashion. Each group had its strengths, for example, the Fulton County sheriff sonar equipment, the Saratoga County dive team, and the State Police bomb experts and drone.

Nothing ever falls on one service, “everyone has a skill set, ultimately to protect life and property,” said Edward Balaban, commander of the Naval Militia at the gathering.

The task is to deal with “real world events,” he said.

“We want to make sure all these organizations can mesh.”

Curtis Brand, a Saratoga County sheriff’s investigator and diver, was preparing his equipment along with other divers. He said they always go out “at least in two-man teams” and are training every month. They might have to search for evidence or a missing person, for example, he said. In yesterday’s scenario they might have to examine the waters around the Batchellerville Bridge.

State Police Sgt. Frank Johnston operated a drone over the bridge to watch over the whole situation, and Trooper Robert Schlegel, wearing protective gear, did testing to determine whether an unknown parcel was dangerous or benign.

Steven Santa Maria, Fulton County civil defense and fire coordinator, said the drills are done because “you don’t want to be reactive. You want to be proactive.”

“One agency can’t do it all,” he said. “We want to establish a relationship” between team members.

In his 35 years’ experience, “the really important lesson is what didn’t go well,” he said.

“You always find something you could have done better.”

By Josh Bovee

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