RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual Rescue Challenge has returned to the greater Richmond area, providing unique training grounds and circumstances to first responders coming from across the eastern United States.

The 26th iteration of the event is being hosted by the Richmond Fire Department (RFD) and the Central Virginia Technical Rescue Team, according to a release. RFD is hosting four of 12 training sites, Monday through Thursday, which include a TV tower rescue, wide-area search at Belle Isle, entrapped worker on a barge in the James River and trapped victims in machinery in the Vulcan stone quarry.

“We want to challenge the teams — mentally, physically — and see what they can and can’t do, go back and train, and become better as individuals, and, obviously, as teams,” said Chad Riddleberger, a Virginia Department of Fire Programs adjunct instructor.

Twelve Technical Rescue Teams from Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio and the U.S. Army are training together this week to increase their knowledge of rescue techniques during the scenarios.

When 8News spoke with Riddleberger, he was at the TV tower rescue, which he said presented a unique challenge because of the height at which rescue teams would have to respond.

“This is a one-of-a-kind event, certainly, in the Commonwealth; one of the only known in the entire United States,” he said. “Training at heights is one of the elements that we technically sometimes don’t get during a training evolution. It’s a more controlled environment, so to speak. We do have safety aspects put in place here today. But these individuals come in and they are applying their training to this particular scenario.”

Over at Belle Isle, 8News spoke with Flemington First Aid Rescue Squad Chief Tom Hoffman, who said that he has been with the New Jersey agency for nearly 30 years. He said his son, daughter and wife are also first responders, and his son was even training alongside him during the scenario at Belle Isle.

“It’s a neat experience to be able to do this stuff with the family,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that he has been coming down to Richmond for the annual Rescue Challenge for six years. During his time as a first responder, he noted that equipment and best practices have evolved, making it important to continue to train and sharpen such skills for an actual emergency.

“It’s been a great opportunity to get back out there after a two-year hiatus of the rescue challenge; gets our guys back involved, working on some skills that we haven’t been working on as much as we should have in the past couple years,” Hoffman said. “If you don’t practice and work at things on a regular basis, when you actually have to do them, you don’t really have a good foundation and understanding of what has to be done, how it has to be done, what the limitations of the equipment are.”