Baltimore first responders train in Anniston for MLB All Star Game
By Robert Richardson
Anniston will play a small role in an upcoming Major League Baseball all star game.About 140 members of the Baltimore Regional Incident Management Team spent the week in Calhoun County at the Center for Domestic Preparedness. The Baltimore Orioles will host the 2016 MLB All Star Game at the ballpark at Camden Yards.The first responders from Maryland were already on the schedule for disaster training at the Homeland Security facility before Major League Baseball announced the selection. That led curriculum director Bernice Zaidel and her staff to tailor Friday's big scenario--called the Integrated Capstone Event--to the city's upcoming event."There will be an all star game in Baltimore, so this is kind of one of their preparatory activities that is going to get them ready to deal with it," Zaidel said."We try to prepare all the communities to deal with all types of hazards. Anytime you deal with people who are not happy with government or whatever, they might have all kinds of sources. Chemical, biological, radiological."With guns drawn, Baltimore officers wearing hazmat suits searched a dark area with train cars, set up to simulate a subway system. They looked for terrorists who, in the scenario, set off explosions near the city's ballpark."Once they found a suspect or located someone who they thought was a suspect, we would take custody of them," Baltimore County police officer first class Andrew O'Neil said."Then go through and get them [decontaminated] and all cleaned up and back to our jail."O'Neil is in his 11th year as a police officer in Baltimore. He said he has done similar training exercises, but never anything to this extent."I've learned a whole lot more than I would have ever learned back in Baltimore when we've done emergency drills and stuff along those lines. It's definitely a big learning experience," he said.The Homeland Security training facility in Anniston impressed him."They have everything set up as it would be if we had this situation at Baltimore, at Camden Yards, everyone has their own duties and it's as realistic as they could possibly make it," O'Neil said.There were hundreds of mannequins and 47 role players who acted as victims, patients, and attackers. All of the survivors, human and plastic, required decontamination.The officers wore hazmat suits, which fourth-year officer Deneisha Foster said was a test of her stamina. She said performing regular tasks in the suits, and communicating with each other through gas masks, was the biggest challenge."It's definitely an eye-opener," Foster said.."I feel safer going back to Baltimore and knowing that I have experienced it, and knowing that if there is an incident, I can put a suit on properly and secure it and protect myself as well as be able to help others."The Baltimore Regional Incident Management Team primarily responds to assist communities following severe weather, such as hurricanes. Daniel Merson and other members of the unit deployed to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. They have not had to deal with any terrorist attacks."It is possible and we need to train. We're in an area, the Baltimore-Washington area, where there's a likelihood that it could happen so we want to be ready for it," Merson said.He is the assistant chief for Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. He said the responders go through a lot of training but don't get many opportunities to have large-scale exercises. The training in Anniston provides an opportunity to exercise the talents and knowledge they already have, combined with new education."The team really gets an opportunity to come away from where we're used to, where we're comfortable, and kind of come down here and get out of our comfort zone a little bit. That's been a good experience where everybody needs to work together and gel as a team," Merson said.
ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama offers news, sports, and weather reporting for the surrounding communities including Tuscaloosa, Anniston, Cullman, Gadsden, Talladega, Sylacauga, Carbon Hill, Jasper, Hoover, Bessemer, Vestavia Hills, Alabaster, Trussville and Homewood.