FDNY Special Operations Command Task Force Run Dual Terror Attack Drill

NY Post - May 13, 2019

by Stephanie Pagones

A terrorist’s bomb has just reverberated through a Brooklyn commuter tunnel at the height of the Wednesday morning rush, clouding the already dark passage with smoke and wounding several.

With the FDNY still racing to the rescue, another call crackles over the radio: A large boat hosting a fundraiser has also been bombed, sending dozens plunging into the depths of Jamaica Bay, one borough over.

None of this is real — but the department’s elite Special Operations Command Task Force spent last week training as though it was, running its first-ever drill simulating simultaneous terror attacks.

“We don’t have to go all the way back to 9/11. We can go back to the Chelsea bombing, the car bomb in Times Square in 2010,” said Chief John Esposito, head of the SOC task force. “We know that we’re a prime target.

The Post got a firsthand look at one of the three days of drills, which saw all 500 members of the SOC — from firefighters and EMTs to chiefs — hard at work in the detailed training exercise.

An abandoned three-tube rail-and-vehicle tunnel off of Van Sinderen Avenue in East New York played the scene of the subterranean “bombing,” dressed to look the part with large slabs of concrete and old, damaged cars — as well as “victims,” both live and dummies.

The Jamaica Bay rescuers, who arrived on scene via boats launched from Canarsie Pier, encountered both real and imitation victims bobbing in the chop, in addition to mannequins trapped below the surface by their seat belts.

As they would in the chaos of an actual attack, both groups went in with limited information about what to expect.

“This is kind of like the dry run,” said FDNY Capt. Dominic Bertucci. “This is testing the capabilities to see how it goes.”

One of the chiefs spearheading the practice missions is Rescue Battalion Commander Joe Downey, whose father, Deputy Chief Ray Downey, was an advocate for emergency preparedness drills.

“This was his vision,” said Downey. “My dad, he was . . . [at] the forefront of it all, so we just kind of had the opportunity to carry his vision on.”

The elder Downey never got a chance to see that vision realized, as he lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001.

“He’d love it,” said Downey, surveying the drill with a soft smile. “He’d love to see all these guys working their asses off, preparing themselves for the real thing.”