Westmoreland churches get tips on how to deal with gunman, other safety situations
Representatives from 13 area churches got tips last week on proper handling of guns in the event any of their congregations faces a deadly intruder.
In an age when any house of worship might become a gunman’s target, the 17 men who gathered at Calvary Baptist Church in New Stanton practiced the best grip and stance to use when aiming a handgun.
They watched as Atlanta-area trainers and Navy veterans Rodney Smith and Apollos Stanek demonstrated how to “clear” the church sanctuary during a simulated intruder alert.
The two armed men entered in a crisscross pattern as they quickly checked the corners of the room and then under the seats.
Those attending learned strategies and skills for minimizing a threat as well as the importance of advanced planning for enhanced security.
“We watch things on the news that happened a long way away, and we’ll pray for those folks,” said Calvary Baptist pastor Richard Sementilli, who participated in the training. “But we need to be aware of the fact it could happen here.
“One does not take things for granted. You always hope for the best but expect the worst.”
Smith drew upon his experience in the Navy and in law enforcement to lead the Church Security Team Training program — including eight hours of classroom instruction at the church Friday and a Saturday session of tactical and firearms training at the Irwin Gun Club.
It followed previous classroom programs he offered in recent months at churches in Hempfield and in his native Bolivar, through the Georgia Firearms and Security Training Academy he founded in July 2015.
Smith recommended that all churches develop contingency plans for various threats, including fires, natural disasters and medical emergencies, and have the security and medical teams in place to carry them out.
He said all congregation members should be trained how to respond if security staff detect a potential shooter.
“If I say, ‘threat,’ everybody needs to get down and cover their heads up so I have shooting lanes,” he said.
Congregations should decide whether they want to have armed security staff at church functions or they prefer a “less than lethal” form of protection, such as a stun gun, Smith said.
Some churches may want only unarmed security staff, which can still be effective at warding off those with criminal intent, Smith said, pointing out, “Presence is the No. 1 deterrent.”
Bill Supancic, a retired Penn Township police sergeant, attended the New Stanton program to bring tips back to fellow members of a volunteer security team that has been in place for about three years at Calvary Church in North Huntingdon.
He declined to reveal whether the team members are armed, but he noted they can draw upon various church members’ military, law enforcement and medical expertise.
“If there is a medical emergency, someone is there to help take care of that person,” he said.
Army veteran Reid Crosby participated in the training with the hope of forming a safety and security committee at Harrold Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hempfield. He would like his church to take beginning steps of forming a medical team and a security team authorized to use non-lethal measures.
“It’s about the safety of your flock,” he said. “Evil exists in the world around us. We can be prepared for what might come.”
Stanek and Smith offered ideas to “harden” a church or any other public building against someone with bad intent, including limiting entry points.
Stanek surprised Sementilli by reading off names of numerous Calvary Baptist congregation members he’d never met. The trainer revealed he’d looked through an exterior window and spotted the names written on a blackboard.
His recommendation: Close curtains or blinds and turn out lights to thwart those who may be looking for information they might use to commit a crime such as child abduction.