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Training day for Hays special response team

8/25/2013

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Making it on virtually any team, as anyone might expect, requires dedication.

Making this team could put a member directly in the line of gunfire.

And yet members of the Hays Police Department and Ellis County Emergency Medical Service paramedics volunteer to do just that.

Members of the Special Situation Response Team aren't recruited, and they aren't drafted. They have to volunteer to join. Doing so invites a battery of physical and psychological tests, all leading to a grueling interview.

Once accepted, it's no cakewalk, as once-a-month training regimens are exhaustive, and exhausting.

Members take it all in stride, just as they take the sometimes harsh criticism leveled by team commander, HPD Sgt. Tim Greenwood. He and team leader HPD investigator Aaron Larson sat down recently to talk about the team, after The Hays Daily News was granted unprecedented access to the SSRT's training program by Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler.

Despite the opportunity for an inside look, Greenwood and Larson still play some practices close to their chest, so as not to compromise tactics they use when called into action. There are 11 SSRT members, eight of them hailing from the Hays Police Department, and three are paramedics.

"It's a voluntary thing," Larson said. "You have to volunteer to be on the team."

That's when the testing begins.

"We test them physically," Greenwood said. "We wear them out. On the day they stand before the (selection) board, they are fried."

That's the idea, to see how they operate under stress because there's plenty of that to go around when they spring into action. But the training doesn't stop there.

Members train monthly, trading their regular 12-hour shifts for 12 hours of grueling training. Twice a year, they run the gamut in training, physical endurance, take-down procedures that include handcuffing fellow team members, qualifying at the firing range and repeated advances on a house where gun-wielding offenders are holed up.

SSRT members -- at the direction of Greenwood, wearing a fluorescent vest -- sometimes are designated as injured, providing the opportunity for rescue training. Paramedics must evaluate and treat the "injured" team members as they are evacuated.

The team is called out an average of eight to 10 times a year, although that number varies from year to year. The circumstances vary wildly as well, ranging from suspects who have barricaded themselves into a home to situations where there are hostages.

Those instances call for special training. That's where SSRT comes in.

Qualifications are set high, Greenwood said, in part to ensure members can handle the strain -- especially the one of making decisions under extreme pressure.

"We keep the proficiency training level high," Larson said.

* * *

Members of the Special Situation Response Team:

*  Tim Greenwood, team commander

* Aaron Larson, team leader

*  Clayton Hill, assistant team leader

* Jason Bonczynski

* J.B. Burkholder

* Brandon Hauptman

* Chris Hancock

* Cody Wolf

* Scott Reese, tactical emergency medical technician

* Dave Bittel, tactical emergency medical technician

* Bob Shubert, tactical emergency medical technician