Simulated hostage situation trains county emergency responders

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette A member of Williamsport's Special Response Team (SRT) is ready at the stairway door to the sixth floor with the phone to provide better communication with the hostage taker during a hostage negotiation training at the county's building at 33 West Third Street Thursday.

It’s the kind of dicey situation, with lives at stake, that would test any emergency responder and one that hopefully won’t happen in Williamsport — an angry man, holding people hostage in a downtown office building, demanding that he get his money back at a financial planning office.

Acting out the situation in this simulated training exercise Thursday were Lycoming County detectives, city police, prison and 911 communications personnel, even a medical health specialist.

The call from an employee located on the building’s fifth floor reported hearing a gunshot late in the afternoon. Upon arrival by police, a woman who works in the building apprised them of the situation.

And so, it went, negotiations by phone with the gunman named Steve, a man in the office shot and wounded in need of medical attention while members of a special response tactical team, heavily armed, enter the building, hoping to defuse the situation.

“You learn from these training exercises,” Lycoming County Chief Detective William Weber said. “We have training objectives we want to meet.”

Weber noted the exercise allowed various law enforcement and emergency responders to test their readiness.

Much of the situation involved communications between a negotiator and the gunman.

With the wounded man moaning not far from the gunman, the dialogue became tense.

“What is your name? Steve?” the gunman was asked.

Steve indicated that someone had taken his money.

He said his wife was with him, along with other hostages.

He was asked by the negotiator about the status of the wounded man.

“We don’t want anyone to die Steve,” he said.

Steve angrily asked why someone didn’t come for the man before he died.

“I don’t think you guys are going to give me my money,” he said.

“Steve. I want to help you out,” the negotiator said.

While the phone conversation continued, members of a special response tactical team awaited instructions from inside the building.

Eventually, they were able to drag the wounded man from a hallway and down the stairs.

County Commissioner Tony Mussare was among the officials monitoring the exercise.

He said the exercise is a good way for emergency personnel to prepare for a real life incident.

“In today’s world, you never know when it will happen,” he said. “I think Lycoming County is well prepared.”

Simulated hostage situation trains county emergency responders