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Firefighters to train at 'disaster city'

Capt. Bruce Bennett Jr., of the Albany Fire Department, said eight AFD firefighters will be train for disasters in an “ultra-realistic” environment at the new Guardian Center in Perry. The team will leave on Aug. 18 and return two days later. (Aug. 9, 2013)

Capt. Bruce Bennett Jr., of the Albany Fire Department, said eight AFD firefighters will be train for disasters in an “ultra-realistic” environment at the new Guardian Center in Perry. The team will leave on Aug. 18 and return two days later. (Aug. 9, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- It could be any city -- complete with buildings, utilities, fire hydrants. It even has a subway system and a realistic replica of New Orleans' ninth ward. But when the hurricanes and earthquakes come around, you might be glad you stayed at home.

A lot of first responders from around the state are going, though, including eight members of the Albany Fire Department. According to Fire Capt. Bruce Bennett Jr., the firefighters plan to join up with other responders from Valdosta on Aug. 18 to spend some time at the Guardian Center in Perry.

Bennett said the new training facility, with its 830 total acres -- 75 of which are designed as a realistic city -- will provide real-world disaster training for the soon-to-be exhausted firefighters.

"I haven't been before," Bennett said, "but it's really going to be a challenge. We don't quite know what to expect. It could be water rescues or collapsed buildings, or maybe haz-mat (hazardous waste)."

The AFD, along with other fire departments in Southwest Georgia make up Task Force II of the Georgia Search and Rescue (GSAR). Task Force II and other task forces around the state will be sending representatives to train in Perry, Bennett said. Albany firefighters are set to leave for Perry at 4 a.m. on Aug. 18 and return two days later.

"The Guardian Center is designed to provide the most taxing and challenging disaster situations short of reality," said Albany Fire Chief James Carswell. "You just don't know how you'll react to something until you're put in that situation. Training helps prepare you for it."

Carswell illustrated the value of training in preparation for disaster by comparing the floods of 1994 and 1998.

"As bad as (the 1998 flood) was, it was a cakewalk compared to '94," Carswell said. "All of us had been there and done that. We knew just what to do."

According to Carswell, the opportunity to train in an "almost real" disaster situation -- yet in a controlled environment -- is of immeasurable value in preparing for actual disasters.

"If you wait for something bad to happen before you plan, you're not going to make it," Carswell said.