- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

LAKEHURST, N.J. (AP) - Charlie LaTerra unleashed his search dog and within seconds, the black lab named Friday had scampered over a mound of rubble and located a “survivor” trapped under a slab.

LaTerra, a member of New Jersey’s urban search and rescue team Task Force 1, was performing drills with his K-9 on Friday at what is known as “the pile” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as part of a massive six-day disaster training exercise.

The Homeland Response Force drill involving 600 military, law enforcement and civilian personnel is the first of its kind to be held in New Jersey, officials said. The exercise, which continues through Sunday, is designed to familiarize the state’s first responders with military counterparts.

“Time is life in our world,” Task Force 1 rescue leader Jim Bastan told The Times of Trenton (https://bit.ly/1DTvIDU) as another K-9 readied to ascend the pile. “To this K-9, this is fun, this is a game.”

For the 200-member Task Force 1, though, the training is serious business. They perform exercises monthly at the base for an assortment of scenarios, from collapsed buildings and hurricanes, to terrorist attacks. And they’ve been deployed to all of the state’s major catastrophes, as well as national disasters, since the group was founded in 1998.

The ongoing training session at the Joint Base involves Army and Air National Guard units from New Jersey and New York. The national guard units regularly train to respond to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents.

To train, they have set up a series of simulators at Lakehurst, including two old train cars, massive oil tanks and numerous pieces of real rubble from real disasters. Parts of the Mantoloking bridge washed away during Hurricane Sandy now form two tunnels, constructed to replicate the Holland Tunnel and a PATH train tube.

“This way, we’re able to train as realistic as we can get,” said State Police Sgt. Christian Dreyer, a coordinator for the task force.

After the K-9 rescues, a six-man rescue squad entered the simulated Holland Tunnel to cut open a car that was crushed in a collapse.

Several fields away, national guard units were gearing up to decontaminate victims. And as part of the exercise, horror movie-style makeup was applied to people playing the roles of victims.

Season Bonner, who has been acting at the base in exercises for over 10 years, was a burn victim and was unwavering in her approach to the character.

“The building exploded and the stove just exploded in my face,” she said.

Ali DiCorcia had a metal stick protruding from the right side of her head. She first started acting in drills in 2007 and she and Bonner have both acted as Muslims for troops deploying to the Middle East and even learned some Arabic to play the role.


Information from: The (Trenton, N.J.) Times, https://www.nj.com/times

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