LAKE MARY – This is what Altamonte Springs police Lt. Darin Farber faced Wednesday: Two employees were trapped in a warehouse by a pair of gunmen. The hostages dashed around a corner and begged Farber for help.
Then one gunman aimed at Farber, and a few seconds later, a second gunman emerged. Farber opened fire and both armed men fell to the floor.
In total, Farber shot more than a dozen "gunmen" Wednesday at a high-tech virtual training simulator inside the firearms training academy at Gander Mountain sporting goods store.
In reality, no one was hurt. No real bullets were fired.
Farber was one of 25 Altamonte Springs officers to go through the training at the gun range inside the store on Lake Mary Boulevard, just off Interstate 4.
"This is so realistic," Farber said afterward. "This type of training gets your heart racing."
He stood on a stage in a darkened room, surrounded by projector screens. In his hand was a modified Glock 9 mm that fired laser beams instead of bullets.
Behind him stood Robert Dean, a Gander Mountain firearms instructor, who manned a computer console that controlled what Farber would see and hear.
Farber would face a variety of scenarios: an armed, suicidal man, taunting him to open fire; a driver angry about being pulled over; a hallway with lots of blind angles that hid a gunman or an innocent officer worker .
Farber tried to reason with the distraught man, tried to calm the angry driver, tried to stay alive in that blind hallway without killing anyone who was unarmed.
The point, said Police Chief Mike McCoy, is to sharpen an officer's judgment – not just his ability to hit a target.
Gander Mountain built the simulated gun range inside its Lake Mary store — which already had a traditional gun range — 18 months ago, said Nick Smith, manager of the store's firearms academy.
Chris Juelich, who heads the chain's firearms academies across the country, described the virtual simulator as a "multimillion-dollar construction project and investment" in Lake Mary. The chain has five others in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas and Kansas.
Civilians can use the virtual range at the Lake Mary Gander Mountain as well, at a cost of $25 for a 30-minute session. But the virtual scenarios are different. The law enforcement scenarios are not available to the public, said Officer Robert Pelton.
Wednesday was Altamonte Springs Police Department's first training day there, Pelton said, but a dozen other police agencies have also used the simulator, according to Smith.
For police agencies, it's a big money saver, Pelton said. By eliminating the need for live ammunition, the city cut costs by more than two-thirds.
It's paying Gander Mountain $35 per officer instead of spending $120 on ammunition he or she would normally fire at the Seminole State gun range in Geneva, Pelton said.
It also tests an officer's judgment in a way not possible at a conventional gun range, Farber said.
There he might face a cardboard target that may turn left or right. In the simulator, he faced images of suspects who moved and talked as well as images of people who posed no threat.
"I've got a millisecond to decide," Farber said. "Scary, scary situation."
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