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NJ Firefighters Experience Simulated Terrorist Attack

NJ Firefighters Experience Simulated Terrorist Attack

A pair of Elizabeth firefighters use the jaws of life hydraulic cutters to take off the roof of a car with victims in it. Newark Fire Department hosts a simulated terror attack drill for representatives of the state's Metro Strike Team, a multi-agency tas

New Jersey News via YellowBrix

May 01, 2010

NEWARK — As firefighters from the Bayonne, Hackensack and Newark Fire departments sifted through burned-out cars and cracked cement slabs inside the improvised Metro City Tunnel, none of them heard the mechanical cry for help coming from the back of a truck.

Stepping carefully over the shifting, wet debris behind them, Newark firefighter Frank Bellina pulled a life-size mannequin out of the hollowed vehicle and turned off the recorder attached to it.

“They missed one,” he muttered.

The heavy plastic doll was one of several “victims” that members of the New Jersey Metro Urban Search and Rescue Strike Team were asked to rescue from a simulated terrorist attack in Newark this week. Roughly 400 firefighters participated in the four-day drill inside the impromptu tunnel, a 170-foot long cavern filled with wrecked cars, ruptured structural supports and treacherous cracked cement that slipped and shuffled whenever someone set foot on it.

“We try to make our training as realistic as possible without hurting someone,” said Bellina, a Newark firefighter assigned to the special operations division.

The strike team is a nine-department unit that responds to collapses and confined space rescues in northern New Jersey. The group was formed after several New Jersey fire departments became involved in rescue efforts following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City.

This week’s scenario was designed to imitate another deadly attack — the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. Firefighters entering the tunnel were told a terror cell had taken a cue from bomber Timothy McVeigh by using a bus to carry a bomb inside of a structure and detonating it once it is inside.

The mission given to the firefighters was simple — rescue survivors. But the obstacles set forth by Bellina and Newark’s special operations crew made the task as complicated as it would be in a real-life situation. Survivors were found inside cars pinned beneath huge cement slabs or perilously close to electrical transformers. Others were hidden behind support beams and walls on the verge of collapse, all situations Bellina said Strike Team members must be prepared to face in an actual catastrophe.

Newark began hosting the yearly training session last year after the exercise was moved from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County. Newark Fire Chief Michael Lalor said the move was made to reduce overtime payouts and to allow for a more cohesive training experience.

“It’s creating a good feeling with everyone working together,” Lalor said. “This isn’t too far off from what (the Strike Team) sees when we go out on a call.”

Lalor said the scene in the tunnel reminded him of a massive explosion in Irvington in 2007 that leveled two homes, killed one man and seriously injured four others. Lalor recalled how firefighters rescued several people buried beneath the wreckage of the homes blown apart.

Elizabeth Fire Director Onofrio Vitullo said the Newark exercise shows an enormous advance in firefighter training around the state.

“When I was a young firefighter,” he said. “This is the kind of training we used to dream about.”

New Jersey fire fighters undergo simulated terrorism experiences