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Education/Training

Minn. City Opens Simulation Training Center for Fire, EMS and Police

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

A training school for heroes has opened in Cottage Grove.

The $21 million HERO Center will train police, firefighters and ambulance personnel for the kind of situations that would give most people nightmares.

“You can do everything here, in one facility,” beamed center manager Dan Anselment, as he gave a grand-opening tour Tuesday.

The center can prepare officials for confrontations with mentally ill people, armed killers and injured victims. Officers can practice in jail cells, firing ranges, split-level homes and smoke-filled staircases—and use the virtual-reality simulator for everything else.

“They thought of everything,” said Anselment.

The HERO Center—HERO is short for Health & Emergency Response Occupations—is owned by Woodbury and Cottage Grove. The state kicked in $11 million for the facility, and the two cities split the remainder of the costs. It sits on a 9-acre plot next to Cottage Grove City Hall.

The center fills a gap in training for first responders.

Many of the features—the firing range, classrooms and homes for crisis simulations—are available in the metro area, but they are widely scattered.

“On our training days, we used to be driving for two hours,” said Pete Koerner, Cottage Grove public safety director.

He said his officers need padded floors to practice arresting suspects, and were forced to use high school wrestling rooms. Now they have their own room at the HERO Center.

Anselment said the 47,000-square-foot facility will be a magnet for federal, state and local law enforcement officers. Already, officers from Canada have called him to find out if they could attend upcoming FBI negotiations training.

Anselment entered a portable-wall area, where panels are moved to create winding passages and dead ends for simulating on-foot chases. Two simulated jail cells waited for suspects, complete with food slots on their doors.

Next to those, firefighters will be able to use the four-story staircase for training. It can be readily filled with smoke, and fire-hose hookups are on every floor.

In the state-of-the-art 12-lane shooting range, flashes of red and blue simulate the lights of a police car.

If officers want to practice shooting from cars, they can drive right inside the range through a garage door, then park the cars and shoot at targets.

In addition to stationary targets, officers will be able to shoot at moving targets at the end of the room, simulating a victim being chased by a perpetrator.

Anselment then entered the virtual-reality room, where a confrontation was underway.

Woodbury police officer Adam Sack was facing an on-screen man with a knife, standing menacingly in an alley.

The officer talked to the man, trying to calm him down. Meanwhile, the system operator, sitting to one side, made the on-screen man reply, “You can’t make me!”

Sack kept talking, but the man wouldn’t put down the knife. Finally, Sack whipped out his Taser and fired it with a loud rat-tat-tat. The system operator made the on-screen man fall to the ground, shaking violently.

Sack stood back, relieved. “The stress feels pretty real,” he said.

The officer explained that everything on his belt—gun, flashlight, Taser—could be picked up by the virtual-reality system, so the on-screen suspects react appropriately when, for example, an officer pulls out a gun.

The Taser simulation was one of 700 available in the system.

Anselment pointed out a window where two houses stood, waiting for trouble.

Some of the most dangerous situations for police are calls to homes—for burglaries, hostage situations, drug overdoses. At the center, officers can rehearse such situations in a rambler and a split-level house.

The red front door of the rambler can withstand small explosions, so police can practice blasting doors open. The other house is complete with burglar-proofing—a common obstacle for officers trying to gain entry during emergencies.

Before the HERO Center, said Anselment, officers had to call cities in the metro area and ask if they had any condemned houses.

As a final touch, said Anselment, the center has a 2-acre pen for training police dogs.

When they are done practicing after a tough day, they can get a wash in the bath area—because even canine heroes deserve a little pampering.

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