New Mercy a training ground for SWAT

Clinging to the side of the new Mercy Medical Center Merced, members of the Merced Police Department’s SWAT Team looked like Spiderman wannabes Thursday morning.

The team members crawled over the roof of the seven-story building, then rapelled down the side of the unfinished building. They were practicing skills they might need in an emergency situation.

“We rarely have to rapell, but we have to train to keep up any skills we might ever need to use in the field,” said Sgt. Jay Struble, assistant team leader for the SWAT Team.

Struble said the police department would use rapelling if there was no other way to get to an entry point in a building.

“Let’s say there’s a shooter on the third floor of this hospital,” Struble said. “That person takes over the third floor, and we have to get in. This would be our only option — to go from up high.”

The new hospital, scheduled to open in 2010, is the tallest building in Merced. Struble said there are other buildings that the SWAT team may someday need to rapell. The Hotel Tioga is one of those buildings, but Struble said the team hasn’t rapelled off of the hotel because of safety issues.

“But if we had to do it, we could,” he insisted.

Eighteen members of the SWAT team drilled on Thursday, along with some medics from Riggs Ambulance. Struble said that every time the team is deployed, medics also go along in case someone is hurt.

The team practiced getting themselves untangled from their ropes and using a skid to help an injured person lowered to ground level. Belay officers were stationed on the second story so that if anything happened, the officers rapelling could be brought down safely.

Observing the practice from ground level was Merced Police Chief Russ Thomas. He watched as each officer kicked out and down the side of the building, rapelling more than 150 feet.

“They have to be able to come down the biggest building we have, and this is it,” Thomas said.

Or as Spidey said in “Spiderman 2:” “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.”