Tactical Response Team Practices for Hostage, Bomb Crisis in Putnam County

It wasn’t your grandfather’s fire drill.

Putnam County Emergency Management Agency on Sunday coordinated a multi-agency training exercise simulating a hostage negotiation involving casualties, a disgruntled employee, booby traps and pipe bombs.

Just a few of the participants in the drill were tactical response personnel (special-weapons and tactics), from throughout Henry, Putnam, Bureau and Lee counties, police, emergency medical technicians and various responders from throughout the Illinois Valley and statewide.

Photo courtesy of the News Tribune

Putnam County EMA had its response trailer to be used as a forward base, and the Bureau County Incident Command vehicle (a recreational vehicle set up for major-incident response) was at a staging area. Electronic signs on Route 71 informed motorists that there could be traffic delays due to the training exercise in progress.

“The whole premise of the drill is so the tactical response teams can practice,” said Putnam County EMA drill coordinator Quentin Buffington, who also is an emergency medical technician and a Hennepin firefighter.

Under the imaginary scenario, an employee of Mennie’s Machine west of Mark, Lyle Calkins, had either killed or caused the death of one first-responding firefighter at the base of a stairway inside the machine shop. Initial responders would not necessarily immediately know all the facts of such a situation.

The suspect had taken seven hostages to an upstairs room. Further, the scenario was, he had set up trip wires for pipe bombs near various entrances to the building and had rigged a truck’s gas tank to explode if triggered.

“He’s doing this because he got passed over for a promotion,” Buffington said.

While police still were assessing the situation, the suspect had fitted a vest full of explosives on a hostage (actually Putnam County High School FFA student “Sam” Smoode) in the same room alongside six other hostages (volunteers from the PCHS ag program including instructor John Heiser, and students Bradley Wink, Megan Wink, Allie Pletsch, Neal Stasell, Shana Wortz and Sara Moore).

As time passed, drill coordinators announced a fire that would have been caused by one explosive device had been spreading, and the suspect, speaking with a company negotiator, reportedly had wounded and then released one hostage. That hostage limped, hopped and stumbled east out of the building, where he was stopped and eventually helped by two armed special response team members who hopped out of a Humvee.

One other Humvee already had deployed a radio-controlled, wheeled robot fitted with a camera, which approached the entrance of the building and showed its operator who was still on Route 71 how an entrance and the truck had been rigged to blow up. Because the robot showed the team the incendiary devices at that entrance, special-tactics teams checked for other possible ways to enter the building and defuse the situation.

“The hostage taker, let two more hostages go, and while he was distracted  waiting on food and a letter and becoming agitated and no longer answering the phone, the decision was made to enter the building. Entry was made by two teams who swept the building as they deployed in,” Buffington wrote in an e-mail later Sunday. “Upon  reaching the top of the stairs and entering the doorway, the hostage taker  was killed with a headshot, and all bombs were defused, the remaining  hostages were detained and questioned whereupon being cleared, they were  released.

“So through a combination of negotiation, surprise, and force (the crisis) was defused.”

PC EMA conducted the functional drill in coordination with all Putnam County emergency agencies: Bureau County Sheriffs Office, Lee County Sheriffs Office, Henry County Sheriffs Office, Whiteside County Sheriffs Office, Sterling Police Department, Kewanee Police Department, Princeton Police Department, Unified Command Post from Bureau County, Illinois Valley Special Response Team, Rock Island SRT, Trinity Hospital, Lee County Tactical Team, Henry County Tactical Team, Whiteside County Tactical Team, and Henry County Dispatch Center, David Mennie, Bill Mennie and Calkins, according to a press release from Quentin Buffington.

The drill committee consisted of PC EMA Director Jim Goldasich, Quentin Buffington, PC sheriff’s deputy Brett Calbow, PC sheriffs telecommunicator Allen Haefner, PC EMA communications officer Keenan Campbell, Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System representative Jim Pearson, retired Illinois State Trooper Bill Heinrich, Illinois Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Dale Chasteen, Mennie’s Machine representative Neil Buffington, and PC Ambulance Director Andy Jackson.

The committee spent several months planning the event, and committee members would grade the units on their performance. The drill coordinator expressed gratitude for Mennie’s allowing the training exercise. Buffington said the event was set up in a way to avoid “any shutdown of a working facility.”

Source: News Tribune