Barron County (WQOW) - They say it's not if, but when. That's why first responders from across western Wisconsin, and even some from Minnesota, spent the last two days in Barron County learning how to better respond to a bombing incident.
"Folks need to understand it's not if they're going to deal with a blast-related incident, but when," said John Rinard, senior training specialist for Texas A&M's Emergency Services Training Institute.
For nearly two decades, Rinard has prepared first responders and emergency personnel across the U.S. for their "when."
"It gives me a sense of fulfillment knowing I've had the opportunity to travel the country, visit a lot of communities big and small, and hopefully, leave them in a position where they're better prepared," he said.
Because the training he offers is entirely funded through the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA, even small, rural departments like the ones in northwestern Wisconsin can afford it.
"If they call, we'll come out and deliver the programs at no cost to them," Rinard said.
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said because so many departments in the region rely on volunteers, training like this truly is priceless.
"Any training we can provide them, with their limited budgets, is a great opportunity," Fitzgerald said. "They're the people that we, law enforcement, is going to depend on when it comes to a bombing incident or a bomb threat, or something like that."
Fitzgerald said this response training has actually been in the books for about six months now; before any of the recent school threats or package bombings in Austin, Texas. He said just because those stories are making headlines today, doesn't mean this training isn't always important."
"We've had explosive devices, or people try to make explosive devices, and it's something that we just want everybody, everybody in the emergency services field to be prepared in," he said.
Because Fitzgerald knows all too well that his quiet community isn't immune to chaos.
"I always think, we live in northwest Wisconsin, nothing bad happens," Fitzgerald said. "Well we've seen in Barron County over the past year, a lot of things can happen. From, you know, tornadoes or whatever it is. Our job, or my job as Sheriff, is to prepare our first responders the best we can and that's why we offer things like this."
Even though this training was geared specifically to first responders, Sheriff Fitzgerald said community members also play an important role in situations like these - primarily in preventing them.
He said if you ever see something suspicious, be it an unfamiliar vehicle parked outside of a school for too long, or a strange-looking package, contact local authorities right away so they can investigate.