Learning the ropes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 10, 2006

Greenville firemen and police officers learned the ropes last week when they took part in a rappelling course at the fire tower on Manningham Rd.

Lt. Randy Courtney said himself, Officer John Bass, Officer Travis Johnson, Fireman Les Liller and the Special Response Team's paramedic, Jason Pouncey, completed the five-day course Rappel Master Course, which certifies its graduates to teach the basics of tactical rappelling.

Also attending was McKenzie policeman Ronald Terry, as well as officers from Troy, Chilton County and Northport.

&#8220We may never use it (the instruction), but then again we might,” said Courtney, who heads up the Greenville Police Department's high-risk warrant team.

Captain Tom Foster, a 26-year veteran with the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida and SWAT officer, taught the course. Foster's website, theverticaloption.com, includes an exhaustive list of law enforcement agencies that he has instructed in the art of rappelling into a hostile environment.

Courtney said students receive an ample amount of classroom and hands-on instruction.

They're taught the safest way of carrying their weapons during a descent, be it from a helicopter or down a wall, and also how to properly inspect their equipment, including harnesses and ropes and anchor points.

They're also required to learn 10 knots and demonstrate the ability to tie that knot in 30 seconds or less.

In the end, the knot and written test determine whether or not they receive Rappel Master certificates.

Courtney said his main goal was to continue building teamwork among members of the SRT.

&#8220Something like this is more of a confidence builder because a lot of guys may initially be scared about rappelling down a wall,” he said.

Formed in October of last year, Courtney said the SRT team continues to meet all of his expectations.

In January, the team was dispatched to the Comfort Inn on I-65 after a shooting between Greenville police officers and an unknown assailant. The team entered the hotel soon after to find the suspected shooter, Wayne Vasquez, dead from gunshots received during the initial shootout with Greenville patrolmen.

&#8220That was probably a good thing for us right out of the gate,” Courtney said of the incident. &#8220Not because some of our own people got hurt, but I think because it showed everyone that there is a need for this type of special response unit. As a team, it went perfect.”

The team trains constantly, Courtney said, and executes an average of two high-risk drug warrants per month. He said there's still the need for more specialized equipment - such as flashbang grenades and additional body armor - but those would come with additional funding in the future.

&#8220When we started this, I had a long term plan implemented about where I would like to be,” he said. &#8220So far, everything's right on schedule.”