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Area officers train in Madawaska to deal with armed assailants

MADAWASKA, Maine — Pink paint is splattered all over the walls of a condemned building on 11th Avenue where members of multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been participating in active shooter training this month.

During the training, small groups of officers from participating agencies enter the building where instructors dressed as both armed assailants and civilians act out various scenarios to make the training as lifelike as possible.

“If we were going into a real active shooter situation, [the officers] have to quickly identify bystanders and the shooter or shooters,” Nathan Doody, a firearms instructor with the Van Buren Port of Entry, said after one of the sessions on Aug. 15.

The active shooter training is organized by members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Training continues through the month with officers participating from a variety of agencies, including the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and police departments from Fort Kent, Van Buren, and Madawaska.

A lot of yelling and screaming could be heard throughout the hallways of the three-story former apartment structure during the training on Wednesday.

John Thibodeau, Ben Gagnon and Michele Ferland were among the actors who set up their rooms inside with red padded mats and hunkered down, waiting for the trainees to enter. As officers and an assailant encountered each other, non-lethal shots were fired, with small pink paint filled bullets flying through the air.

A thunderstorm and sirens from emergency vehicles outside only added to the disarray and auditory stimulation of the shouts and gunfire inside.

While the sirens and cries were planned, the rain and thunder was not.

“A bad day doesn’t know weather conditions,” said Less Lethal Force Instructor AJ Clavette of the Madawaska port of entry for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The rain also added moisture to the air that caused helmets to fog and floors to become slippery inside the training area. None of that, however, prevented the officers from conducting their training and being taught in which instances to shoot or not to shoot.

“It’s always interesting to see the development of the students as they go through each scenario,” said supervisor and firearms instructor for the Fort Kent Port of Entry, Ben Gagnon. “Doing it over and over can add a sense of realism to the role and can simulate a real time event.”  

Gagnon, who portrayed the role of the assailant in each scenario, said after Wednesday’s training, that if a potential shooter saw the training, “I don’t think he would make that choice,” to become an assailant.

During each simulation, the officers were tested on their ability to effectively communicate, stay together, and safely assess and handle the situation.

“We want to thank all the agencies that participated in the training, air interdiction agent, James Peters, and the role players,” said Clavette. “There is only so much our instructors can do.”

Toward the end of Wednesday’s training session, members of the Madawaska Emergency Medical Services also participated in two rounds, where after the all-clear was given, they were able to enter and assess the “injured” and transport them accordingly.

“We’ve had multiple sessions so far and there has been very successful interagency comradery,” said Clavette. “They get to work together for a brief period of time.”

Madawaska Town Manager Gary Picard gave the agencies permission to use the condemned property on 11th Avenue before the building is demolished.

“It’s great to get the chance to get all of the agencies together for this type of training,” Madawaska Police Chief Ross Dubois said Thursday. “A training like this lets us assess our strengths and weaknesses.”

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