Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
When police arrive on the scene, they never know exactly what they will face.
But thorough training can help them know what to expect.
The Stratford Police Service held its annual training day last Wednesday in an abandoned building on Packham Road.
"The main idea of this is to practice, in a controlled environment, the types of things we'd be expected to do in a critical incident," said Sgt. Gerry Foster, of the Stratford Police Service.
"With that practice we get to hone the skills we've already developed, identify any weaknesses and adjust them in training."
This year's exercise replicated a barricaded person scenario, with a disgruntled laid-off employee returning to his workplace and taking former co-workers hostage.
The roles of the suspect and hostages were played by off-duty police officers. Real weapons were used but no live ammunition was permitted.
Weapons were checked several times before the scenario began to ensure safety.
Police treated the event like a real situation, calling in the 10-member Emergency Response Unit (ERU), two crisis negotiators, an incident commander, criminal investigators and a scribe.
Because it's difficult to pull patrol officers off the streets, their role in the scenario was simulated.
Victims Services of Perth County and Perth County EMS were also invited to participate.
While the training exercise is meant to identify any issues, those discovered are often of a logistical nature, something that brings Foster -- who is the team leader of the ERU -- great pride.
"I'm proud to say we don't seem to make large or critical mistakes," he said.
Chances are that's because members of the ERU keep their skills sharp in monthly training sessions.
Those sessions are enjoyable for Foster, who places great importance on the constant learning that is required of ERU members and the constant challenges thrown their way.
"Not every call is the same, each one is different," he said. "It requires different planning, requires a different response. The environment is different."
They also debrief after every call to identify shortcomings, something that was also included in last week's training exercise.
"If we identify something we could do better, we work on it in training," explained Foster.
The team's goal during the training scenario was to talk the person out of the room without any harm to him or his hostages. Police do not engage in tactical operations unless it is critically necessary.
Another priority is keeping other members of the public safely away from the scene, something which can often pose a challenge.
For example, the incident on Ontario Street in early August -- where an agitated man refused to come out of a second-floor apartment -- saw hundreds of people assemble in close proximity to the scene.
"It still surprises me people are willing to get as close as they do to some of these environments," said Foster, noting the suspects involved are often unpredictable and in a state of crisis.
"They are dangerous, they are critical and if you look at how the responding police are dressed, to me that should be an indicator this may not be completely safe ... it is not a static environment, it is a dynamic environment."
Being exposed to such an environment is something Victim Services volunteer Jennifer Birmingham said helps in her work. It gives her an extra understanding of what police are doing at the scene.
"We have an idea of how things happen," she said. "Knock on wood we'll never have to be in this situation, but I think it will help us understand."
Overall, Insp. Mike Bellai was pleased with how the training exercise went.
"We will ensure that in the future, if there is something we missed or something we can do better that we deal with it today," he said.