TUNNEL Training

There is an old saying that's famous in the music world: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." It is the same in the fire and emergency services. Unless you are well drilled in the talents of your trade, you stand a great...


There is an old saying that's famous in the music world: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." It is the same in the fire and emergency services. Unless you are well drilled in the talents of your trade, you stand a great chance of failing when the time comes to do...


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The Newark Fire Department Special Operations Division, under the command of Deputy Chief Richard Zieser, was charged with developing the exercise scenario. Firefighter Frank Bellina was assigned the task of creating the drill. It was decided that the exercise would take place during the morning rush hour in the fictional "Metro City Tunnel." The scenario stated that a terrorist group activated an improvised explosive device (IED) in the tunnel, causing an explosion, vehicle accidents and structural damage.

The scenario further stated that local fire, police and EMS personnel had arrived on the scene and were quickly overwhelmed by the complexity of the incident. According to the drill's playbook, the first-in responders will have begun removal of the surface and lightly trapped victims and called for assistance of the MUST. Staging the exercise in a tunnel allowed for a series of evolutions to be built into the drill to test skills that were previously taught to MUST members.

The drill plan called for at least four separate evolutions to test the knowledge of specific skill sets and tool operations. A team of controllers and safety officers were assigned to each evolution in order to ensure safety and consistency at every station. This scenario was designed to not only test the operations staff, but the command staff as well. The command staff had to expand the Incident Command System (ICS) to fill all positions to keep control of this operation.

During the course of the exercise, various message "injects" were periodically put into the scenario to test both the command and operational functions. This assisted the evaluation team in rating the overall team ability to adapt and overcome obstacles. This aspect allowed the drill to be as realistic as possible. To this end, an actual "tunnel" was constructed on the training grounds of the Newark Fire Department Fire Training Center.

The scenario involved the explosion of an over-the-road bus that "terrorists" had crammed full of an ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) explosive mixture. The "terrorists" chose this vehicle after studying the approaches to the "Metro City Tunnel." In the script, the "terrorists" noted that box vans such as the one used in the 1995 Oklahoma City incident were routinely stopped and searched, but that regular bus traffic was routinely waved right into the tunnel. Another benefit of the bus was that it had tinted windows, so that the police could not see inside to check its occupants.

Just prior to the drill, a briefing was conducted for all members of the operational force. Groups then were created and assigned. This was followed by a video clip that gave the conditions that arriving units might expect to encounter. To ensure that proper protection for the region would be maintained, a force of two task force units under the command of a battalion chief was held in reserve, ready to respond to any real incidents.

The initial reports fed to the groups indicated that "Metro City" police were in pursuit of a bus that had blown past tunnel security teams. All of a sudden, reports from the pursuit vehicle stopped. First-in units were met by a Metro City battalion chief who confirmed that an explosion had occurred in the tunnel and that all lightly injured people had been evacuated. Two USAR teams were assigned to perform a reconnaissance of the tunnel. Over a four-hour period, additional teams were assigned to perform various rescue operations within the tunnel area.

Eight separate rescue stations were set up for the exercise. Each required a great deal of heavy physical labor to get the job done. One realistic aspect of this drill involved the phased deployment of the necessary team resources. An added bit of realism involved the creation of a cut station outside the tunnel. This was the area where the various pieces of lumber needed for shoring operations were created based on the specifications supplied by various operational teams. In past drills, units were cutting lumber in close proximity to the areas of need. In a real tunnel scenario, the lumber would have to be cut and prepared at a remote location.

One by one, the various rescue evolutions were completed with much backbreaking, heavy-lifting work. An interesting additional aspect of this drill involved the use of an in-tunnel video system that gave the incident command team an eyes-on look at all of the operations in the tunnel.