It’s the training day no CDCR officer will ever forget. Today is one of the most uncomfortable and intense days of the officer academy at the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center in Galt.
This is chemical-agent exposure training day and Delta Company’s time has come. The cadets are close to graduation if they can complete the academy.
After graduation, the cadets will join the CDCR ranks as full-fledged officers. This means they’ll often encounter some very intense and overpowering moments. Training prepares the future officers for those moments, allowing them to maintain their composure.
Training gives CDCR cadets job-like experience
First, the cadets prepare for the chemical agent exposure with classroom instruction. Academy instructors educate the cadets as to what will happen to them with each of the three different chemical agents they’ll encounter.
“We basically know what to expect,” said cadet Vanessa Melendez as she went on to describe their pending discomfort. “It’s all mindset.”
Some of the cadets have approached the impending exposure much more casually, and competitively.
“When I get in there, I’ll just take it like it is,” said cadet Brandon Lugar.
Counting off as they board the bus, the cadets are taken to the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. The facility is run by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
They arrive and march together to an open area, where a small warehouse awaits them. The cadets will be exposed to two different chemical agents.
At the warehouse, the cadets are issued gas masks and reminded how to use them.
“It feels like you can’t breathe,” Lugar said. “You got to keep in mind that you can breathe; it just constricts you a little bit.”
CDCR cadets engulfed in chemical agent
The warehouse fills with smoke as the chemical agents are deployed. Surrounded by the thick smoke, the cadets remove their masks and shout their company name, ensuring the cadets have taken a breath.
The reaction causes the cadets to immediately begin coughing and shutting their eyes tight. Holding on to each other, they exit the warehouse. They are led to the open grassy area and told to face the wind to ease the burning sensation.
“Yeah it burns, it burns,” said Melendez, wiping her face and eyes with tissue.
After experiencing both chemical agents, it’s back to the academy for the pepper spray exposure.
Pepper spray training
The cadets separate into two lines. One cadet receives the exposure and the other stands by to immediately lead them to the eye-wash station.
The cadet lines his/her face up to the Plexiglass and prepares for the academy instructor to deploy a single burst of pepper spray onto the shield and indirectly into the cadet’s eye.
“It’s just instant burning and it did make me panic a little,” said Melendez. “I lost my breath for a minute, but my partners helped me calm down.”
The cadets let water stream into their eyes, holding them open as they attempt to flush out the chemicals. A swamp fan helps dry their eyes.
Within 15 minutes, the cadets are back to normal, despite irritated eyes.
After both exposures, the camaraderie is apparent, each cadet looking out for the other and helping each other however possible.
It’s a bond that will continue into the institutions as the correctional officers report to duty day in and day out inside one of the nation’s largest correctional systems.
“At the end of the day I know for a fact that my fellow cadets will have my back if something happens and I would have their backs as well,” Melendez said.
By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer