When the Tompkins Health Center was built on the Friendship Haven campus in the early 1960s, there was no skimping on the material that went into the metal patient room doors.
Nor was there skimping on the door jamb, the door opening mechanism or the hinges.
Members of the Webster County Special Emergency Response Team, with officers from both the Webster County Sheriff's Department and the Fort Dodge Police Department, discovered this Thursday when they tried to breach one of those doors with a battering ram while training in the soon-to-be demolished building.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Police officer Zach Stanley, left, swings a breaching ram Thursday as he practices with the Webster County Sheriff’s/Fort Dodge Police SERT Team in the Tompkins Health Center at Friendship Haven. The building, slated for demolition, is being used by several area police and fire agencies for training.
Sgt. Luke Fleener, of the Webster County Sheriff's Department, monitored the training.
"They're tough," Fleener said. "You just have to keep going."
But there was an advantage to that toughness. Being able to train in that environment offered diverse benefits to the trainees.
"We have a building that's unfamiliar," Fleener said. "We're able to use tools and techniques that we've trained on."
One example was breaching the doors with a ram and other tools. Dozens of doors open onto each floor, which gave each officer an opportunity to test their skills over the course of several entries.
Although most doors law enforcement encounter on routine calls aren't as strong as the ones to the Tompkins patient rooms, it helps the training.
"You prepare for the worst," Fleener said, "then scale back if you need to."
The team was able to practice different scenarios, including multiple story exercises and working in stairwells.
Another layer of the training was the lighting conditions. At Tompkins, much of it no longer functions.
"It adds a lot of stress," Fleener said.
In a real situation, poor lighting, blaring fire alarms, perhaps smoke and even small fires are some of the things that officer might face, he said.
So the absence of light added a touch of reality.
"Our skills will be put to the test when we depend on it," Fleener said.
Linda Lauver, marketing and community relations director for Friendship Haven, said that the public service agencies are able to train on the upper floors of the building now that the all of the residents have been moved to the recently completed Simpson Health Center. Schmoker Adult Day Services are still operating on the ground floor until a building dedicated to their use is completed in March.
In the meantime, Lauver is happy to see the building provide one more service to the community before it's torn down.
But seeing police officers in full combat gear was a new experience for her.
"On one hand, it's kind of scary," she said. "On the other, it's a comfort knowing they can provide that level of security."
Julie Thorson, chief executive officer of Friendship Haven, said she is glad to be able to give the agencies a place to train.
"We're very dedicated to serving the local community," she said. "We're happy to be a partner with the local agencies."
Tompkins will continue to be available to local public service agencies, including both law enforcement and fire, as long as it stands, she said.
"We want to get as much use as we can," Thorson said.
Demolition of the Tompkins Health Center is expected to begin in January 2014 with asbestos abatement; the dismantling of the entire site is slated for March. The building site will become a green space.