(Photos by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
With temperatures pushing the 90s, and storms in the distance, the air was thick outside the Clay Central-Everly High School building Wednesday afternoon.
Things weren't much better inside as law enforcement officers, sporting green t-shirts and camouflage, protective gear and an impressive arsenal, took the building. They were searching for subjects who were hiding inside of the mostly empty building.
That was their task in the exercise. Enter the building, locate and subdue the targets, and leave the facility with the same amount of holes they entered with.
The High Risk Entry and Arrest Team - or HEAT - response unit spent Wednesday morning clearing a single-family dwelling and property near Gillett Grove. The afternoon brought the team, comprised of officers from southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, to the CC-E senior high school building in Everly.
It was hot, it was sticky, it was dark in areas and provided plenty of blind spots for the team to navigate as they attempted to locate strategically hidden training partners inside the building.
Brent Shatto, with the Estherville Police Department, said, "We've never been to this building. You can experience different things with buildings that are not in your jurisdictional area."
The group trained in Clay County, thanks to the Spencer Police Department and county sheriff's office - both of which are members. Twenty-two members, representing more than 20 agencies gather monthly to participate in approximately eight hours of training throughout the region it serves.
All of the hard work is to prepare them for any emergency which could arise in any of the communities served by the HEAT squad.
"We use everything," Shatto said. "We use manufacturing buildings, Arnold's Park, the lakes, private residents, schools. We try to train in every area possible so we can be prepared for any possible situation."
He continued, "After every scenario, we discuss what went right and wrong."
The idea of a tactical team to serve the region came about in 1997 when area law enforcement recognized that departmental tactical teams were not a reality on the limited county and municipal budgets in the area. Instead, leadership for the law enforcement entities began meeting to discuss the prospects of a merged group. Iowa and Minnesota state attorneys also joined the discussion to clear the path of any legal hurdles. By 1998, the first HEAT group was formed with 10 agencies and 12 members.
Offering everything from hostage negotiations to a repel team, hostile warrant service to search and rescue efforts, the group trains to provide the greatest chance for success when their specialized services are required.
"We're one of the first of its kind in our area," Shatto said, "a tactical team that crosses state lines, let alone jurisdictional lines."