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New response team faces first trial

Emergency Response officials gave the Lincoln County Sheriff’sDepartment’s new Special Response Team a seal of approval afterWednesday’s disaster drill.

“I was very impressed,” said Clifford Galey, Lincoln County’sMississippi Emergency Management director and exercise supervisor.”I think they did a good job given the situation they werehanded.”

Sheriff Steve Rushing also lauded the department’s specializedteam of deputies.

“I think it went pretty well,” he said. “It was a toughsituation and they handled it.”

Wednesday’s disaster drill was the first realistic challenge forthe team on several levels, Rushing said.

The explosion of a meth lab in a small shed-like structurebehind the house enabled the team to test its skills in isolating acontaminated crime scene and preparing it for a trained hazardousmaterials team from the Brookhaven Fire Department to inspect thesite.

A hostage situation on the scene compounded the complications.The SRT had to employ advanced tactics to defuse the incident whilesafeguarding the lives of the hostages.

“It gave us a good chance to test the team,” he said.

One suspect was eliminated about halfway through the exercisewhen he exited the building and executed a hostage. An SRT scout,who was already in place to watch the scene after deputies wereordered away from the house, “shot” the suspect in response.

The other suspect was arrested when the SRT forced entry intothe home.

Although Wednesday’s exercise called for the team to usetactical skills to eliminate a threat using force, Rushing said theSRT is actually designed to handle situations that may be no lessdeadly, but rarely involve murderous suspects.

“The main thing it is geared for is hazardous materialsresponses,” Rushing said. “We are not a SWAT (Special Weapons AndTactics) team.”

Sheriff’s Department Capt. Dustin Bairfield, SRT commander,agreed.

“We don’t have any emphasis on special weapons,” he said. “Ourprimary goal is to isolate and confine a situation whether it’s ameth lab, radiological source or even a tactical situation whennecessary.”

The SRT, equipped and funded through Department of HomelandSecurity grants, does not have the specialized weapons andequipment typical of SWAT that would be used in violent situations,Bairfield said.

However, one area where SRT members are similar to SWAT is thatthey receive more highly specialized training and deputies mustmeet higher minimum standards than those on patrol, Rushingsaid.

The unit became viable a few weeks ago, but its members arestill undergoing specialized training to prepare them forsituations they might find themselves encountering, he said.