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Our Town training aids emergency worker response
Participants in an Our Town emergency drill gather around the large city model during Thursday afternoon’s practice drill at the Hall County Fire Training Facility. The drill gives first responders the opportunity to see what handling a disaster is like in real time.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, city and county crews responded to a fire at a four-story senior living facility.

Those who were able evacuated themselves, while first responders worked to evacuate invalid and injured residents.

When an emergency crew leader forgot a critical step in the response plan, a time-out was called, the error was discussed and the responders corrected the problem.

Real life doesn’t come with a reset button, but luckily Thursday’s fire was just a drill.

“We’ve all taken the classes, but there still seems to be a disconnect in taking everything that we learn there and applying it to real-life situations,” said John Bierling, Our Town Incident Command instructor.

Our Town is a training course that gives first responders and community leaders the opportunity to use a town replica to run through real-life scenarios. Although the buildings and emergency vehicles were just models, the scenarios were real.

“These are things that could actually happen,” said William Wright, Hall County emergency management coordinator. “It’s important to have a cross-section of participants involved, because it gives them experience handling an emergency — before one occurs.”

While classroom teaching gives individuals an opportunity to learn the basics, actual experience is the best teacher, Bierling said.

During the eight-hour training, participants ran through a number of scenarios — the most complex situation involved responding to reports of debris in the roadway.

Once the crews arrived on the pretend scene, they discovered the littered roadway was just the tip of the iceberg. The larger issue was a tornado that had touched down in the area.

With a mix of industry officials, first responders and community leaders, the Our Town session gave participants the opportunity of seeing all aspects of handling man-made and natural disasters.

For some of the first responders who are used to taking direction at the scene, the Our Town drills allowed them to see why incident commanders make certain requests.

“We all know the tactical parts of our jobs, but we can’t do them effectively if we aren’t properly lead or managed,” said Bierling, who has a fire service background. “We do incident command because sometimes bad things happen, and when it does, we have to be the best we can be.”