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Today's Practice Is Tomorrow's Reality

Training for disasters they hope will never occur — but do.

Technical Rescue Teams from throughout the state will gather in Alexandria next week to participate in the 12th Annual Rescue Challenge. The combined training exercise in emergency preparedness for both small and large incidents will also include teams from the military, Montgomery County, MD, and FEMA.

Scheduled to take place at four different sites from May 1 through May 4, the training will involve more than 300 participants including both team members and staff support. This year's event is being co-hosted by Alexandria and Arlington County fire departments.

"Training together pays big dividends when a major emergency occurs as evidenced by the successes of the technical rescue teams at The Pentagon on 9/11. It was the Alexandria Team that shored up the main entrance that day after the attack. They spent 12 straight days there working round-the-clock," said Robert Luckett, Chief Deputy Fire Marshal, Alexandria Fire Department.

These exercises are designed to be realistic in every respect. "There is a lot of actual danger in each event. That's why each team is assigned a safety officer," said Captain Phillip Perry, Alexandria Fire Department and event coordinator.

More than 10 Technical Rescue Teams from as far away as Roanoke, VA, will gather at the Pentagon Hotel, 4660 Kenmore Avenue, at 8:30 a.m. May 1 for preliminary instructions and opening ceremonies. They will then break down into individual teams that will undertake two scenarios per day for each of the four days.

Those scenarios will include exercises in trench and rope rescue, domestic terrorism, structural collapse, confined space extrication, downed helicopter rescue, and an obstacle course. There will be four venues with multiple sites at each.

* Vulcan Quarry off Van Dorn Street - three sites

* The former USA Today building in Rosslyn - two sites

* The former youth detention facility in Lorton - three sites

* Fort Belvoir - two sites, one on the main base and the other at the former Engineering Proving Grounds.

THIS YEAR for the first time personnel from the Fort Belvoir Fire Department will take part along with a team from Montgomery County, Maryland. They will join teams from eight Virginia departments.

"We will be working on such scenarios as a Metro accident and how to deal with demonstrations such as the one staged by Green Peace when they locked themselves together with their arms in metal tubes," said Lieutenant Dave Bogozi, event logistics coordinator.

Teams from Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Virginia's Tidewater area have received national acclaim for their efforts in dealing with disaster situations worldwide. The Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department Team was dispatched to Indonesia in late 2004 to deal with the devastation of the tsunami.

Teams rotate through the various sites and exercises. They have two hours to complete each assignment. At the end of that time efforts cease, according to Perry. There is then an evaluation of the performance to find ways to improve.

Of the 300 total personnel involved, Alexandria will have 20. Of that number there will be 10 team participants and 10 support personnel. Arlington County will have 15 personnel participating, according to Luckett.

Expenses for the annual event are borne by the host departments plus private sponsors. This year's corporate sponsors are Vulcan Quarry, Sunbelt Rentals, Virginia Concrete, Blue Ridge Outfitters, Safeware, and W.O.Grubb Cranes.

Locales normally sponsor the event for two to three years in a row. The 2007 Challenge will also be held here. Commencing in Richmond 12 years ago, previous events have been held in Roanoke and Virginia Beach as well the Alexandria area.