Officer Scott Tracy, wearing a helmet and military camouflage pants, edged to the top level of the Sullivan Square Parking Garage, six stories up in downtown Frankfort.
It was his first day of rappelling training, and he’d been down a few times already.
“Todd, was I shaking?” Tracy asked.
“Yeah, you were shaking,” replied Officer Todd Smithers, a master rappeller certified by Lexington’s SWAT team.
“You’re just holding the rope and white knuckling it,” Tracy said, adding that he was learning to trust his instructors.
Smithers said Tracy was a natural.
Before he had sat down to go over the ledge, but this time Tracy was going to have to stand on the ledge before going over. He got into position.
Capt. Rob Richardson, commander of the Frankfort Tactical Response Unit, warned Tracy “them first few steps are going to be quick.”
Tracy dropped like a rock, but as Richardson said, going over is the hardest part, and promptly he was rappelling in good form.
“That was good,” Richardson said. “He didn’t cry, that would’ve been bad… he manned up.”
Tracy’s manning up was part of the Frankfort Tactical Response Unit’s twice-a-month training. The unit has 15 members – 11 with Frankfort Police and four from the Franklin County Fire Department.
Richardson said though his team had never used rappelling for police action, it’s a useful skill for search and rescue. In addition to SWAT team duties, the unit serves as a search and rescue team for the city and county.
For instance, rescuers may need to rappel a cliff to get to someone, or hook up a safety rope to an officer trying to talk down a person threatening to jump off a bridge.
Sgt. Russ Greenwell, a member of the unit from the fire department, said firefighters once rappelled to rescue a window cleaner at Capital Plaza Hotel.
But in the rare case of a shooter or hostage situation where it would be unsafe to go through the front door, a rappeller could descend from a higher level and break through a window.
Also a plus: Rappelling is part of the Kentucky Tactical Officers Association’s annual SWAT team competition.
Whatever the intended use, Richards and his team are now better at jumping off buildings attached to thin ropes. Near the end of the training, the commander rappelled himself. He made it down in one piece, but got a severe case of rope burn.
“Dang, that’s hot!” he said.
The only tough part, he emphasized, is getting up the courage to go over the ledge.
“Once you get out there and you realize that the rope is going to hold you, it’s all downhill from there, literally.”