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Local News

June 21, 2013

Search, rescue drill keeps fire crews sharp

Four area fire departments came together Wednesday night for a search-and-rescue training exercise at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park.

The Westford Volunteer Fire Department coordinated the exercise, which also included Worcester, Schenevus and West Worcester volunteer fire departments. The event was intended to troubleshoot any problems that might occur in an actual emergency.

“Several years ago, the officers from four fire departments — Schenevus, Worcester, East Worcester and Westford — had a meeting,” said Westford Fire Chief Ralph Ritton. “We recognized that none of us had the manpower to handle incidents that we were getting alone.”

Ritton said that the four fire departments formed an agreement to work together on all structure fires. The exercise was intended to expand their coordinated efforts.

Kevin Ritton, Ralph’s son and the emergency services coordinator for Otsego County, created a scenario that was kept secret from the participating fire departments. With the help of Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park employee Joe Ritton (also related to Ralph and Kevin), two dummies — called Rescue Randys — were placed into the woods.

Dispatch was called to report a possible missing person at the park. All communications about the drill included a statement that this was a drill. Had an actual emergency happened during the training exercises, all participants were instructed to preface communications with, “This is real world.”

At 6:30 p.m., the tone was sounded and dispatch sent Westford emergency responders to the location. Three emergency vehicles arrived within 10 minutes. After searching for about 30 minutes and finding nothing, the Westford team called for assistance.

The other teams arrived within 22 minutes and set up a command center. The Westford fire chief briefed the other team leaders.

“We have a possible missing person,” Chief Ritton said. “State Park employee James Smith, age 65, was reported missing by his family.

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