Guard, FBI call former hospital in Preston 'great' site for training
Monday, March 21st 2011
Preston - The former Norwich Hospital property can be a great place to simulate a war zone, a dangerous fire or even a terrorist bombing.
These aren't ideas from a movie producer about how to use the abandoned former hospital for the mentally ill for a new action movie.
Instead, they are actual training scenarios envisioned by local, state and federal entities that have asked the town for permission to use the property in the coming months.
"The site is very good in providing that sense of realism when it comes to the training piece," said Col. John Whitford, spokesman for the Connecticut Army National Guard. "We've used it before, and it's a great facility for us for training."
The 118th Multi-Functional Medical Battalion, which - recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan, hopes to use the former hospital property during the unit's summer training period from July 20-26. If approved as expected by the town, the Newington-based unit would set up a Forward Operating Base, complete with a hospital, transportation system for wounded soldiers from battle zones and support facilities.
Whitford said the unit would use some of the buildings and would operate as a self-contained city during the training.
The Guard has used Norwich Hospital in the past for training, and Whitford said officials have received positive feedback from participants. The unfamiliarity of the hospital property adds to the training atmosphere as compared to regular Guard sites often used for training.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and state police also want to return to the former Norwich Hospital grounds for the FBI Indoor Post Blast Training School from May 23-27.
The FBI conducted the training last May at the hospital property, creating a "terrorist bombing post-blast scene," wrote Special Agent in Charge Kimberly K. Mertz in a letter to the town requesting permission to use the site.
Students in the training were from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as local fire departments.
The Preston Redevelopment Agency approved the FBI's request this month. According to Mertz, this will be the 14th training class conducted at the former hospital property dating back to 2003. The state owned the vacant campus until last year, when Preston took over ownership.
Mertz wrote that the Connecticut FBI training program has been called "the most realistic training offered of its type."
Frank Ennis, hospital site manager for the Preston Redevelopment Agency, said the agency likes to cooperate in these requests. He said use of the property adds to awareness that it is in the hands of the town, and that the town soon will be looking for developers for what now is called Preston Riverwalk.
Ennis said the town does not charge the various emergency response agencies or the National Guard to use the property.
The PRA last week started environmental cleanup of asbestos and lead paint, using the first of three federal $200,000 abatement grants.
Preston's two local fire departments are doing their own cleaning in the former Kettle Building at the southern edge of the campus. Preston Fire Chief Thomas Casey said the Preston City and Poquetanuck volunteer fire departments are cleaning debris and clutter out of the Kettle building.
The departments hope to set up a permanent training facility there, at least until the town finds a developer for the property.
The building will be used for search and rescue, smoke training, ladder and hose training and rapid intervention team training to rescue firefighters in danger inside a building. Once the two Preston departments set up the facility, they will invite firefighters from surrounding towns to regional training sessions there, Casey said.
"It's a great opportunity to do some really good realistic type, hands-on training," Casey said.
This article was written by Claire Bessette and published by The Day on Monday, March 21st 2011 and NOT owned by nor affiliated with opacity.us, but are recorded here solely for educational use. The photographs featured in the article are randomly selected from the Norwich State Hospital galleries on opacity.us unless noted otherwise; they may not directly relate to the article subject matter except for the site location - any other relation is purely coincidental.