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Rescue Teams Hit The Beach In Westport For Emergency Preparedness Day

Norwalk firefighter Mike Fratello explains an inflated Type A hazardous materials suit. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Brad Cole and Spartacus make up a psychological trauma team that has responded to the Sandy Hook shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing and a Fairfield train collision. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
The state's only ambulance for animals made the scene Monday. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

WESTPORT, Conn. — A bomb has blown up on a crowded, rush-hour Metro-North train. Panic ensues as rumors spread that it contained radioactive material. Who do you call?

Quite possibly Doug Reitmeyer, assistant chief of the Stratford Fire Department, who also works with the Mass Decontamination Unit through the Regional Emergency Planning Team.

“Basically what this is is a car wash for people,” Reitmeyer said as he gave tours of the unit at Region 1 Emergency Planning Team Preparedness & Response Field Day at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport on Monday.

Members of the team offering elected officials and the media a chance to see how the region shares resources, supplies and skilled emergency professionals to better protect citizens during natural disasters, accidents and Homeland Security emergencies.

Apparatus on display included hazmat trucks, communications units, a 29-foot U.S. Coast Guard boat and the state’s only animal ambulance, which is based in Shelton.

Officers from the Connecticut West Incident Management Team explained how they can go into a community and handle logistics for everything from a hurricane to a Donald Trump rally.

“We bring the data backbone to a scene,” said Team Administrator David Becker. “We can be completely independent. We can set up an emergency operations center in the middle of a field.”

The team’s trucks and equipment can bring vital power, commercial wireless connections and computers to a scene for smoother coordination among personnel, he said.

Brad Cole and his K-9 partner, Spartacus Cooch, walked through the crowd, an easy assignment for a psychological trauma team that has worked at the Sandy Hook school shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Fairfield train collision.

Based in Milford, Cole and the affable Akita are a tool for peer support in Norwalk.

“We leverage the human-canine bond,” Cole said.

Cole and Spartacus spent 10 days at Sandy Hook, offering behind-the-scenes help with the crisis team.

“They ask you, ‘What do I say to a 10-year-old?’” he said, pointing at Spartacus. “This buys you a little time to connect.”

Norwalk firefighter Mike Fratello stood near an inflated hazardous materials suit that looked a bit more like a Teletubby than a $4,000 piece of life-saving equipment. But the Level A suit fully protects a first responder and a self-contained breathing apparatus in the event of an “unknown situation,” such as a bomb blast or chemical spill, Fratello said.

“If we’re going into an unknown, we’re wearing this,” said Fratello, who said his team is available from Greenwich to Stratford.

Many of those on hand take on extra training to become part of the regional team, in addition to their local duties, Reitmeyer said. The eight Stratford officers on the team train monthly. He also traveled to Alabama to participate in a nerve gas program through Homeland Security.

“These incidents are going to happen,” he said. “But we can help them be more contained.”

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