911th Engineers train for worst-case rescue
July 29, 2010
GALLAGHER, W. Va., (Army News Service, July 29, 2010) Aca,!"- Leaning back, lending their weight to the cause, eight men pull in a rhythmic pattern Aca,!" their efforts causing a series of ropes to tighten.
Suspended across a valley and secured to trees, the ropes hold an Army technical rescue engineer traversing his way toward an injured casualty.
Aca,!A"Hold!Aca,!A? shouts the Soldier on the ropes, as he conducts the tedious and dangerous task of a vertical rescue.
At the Center for National Response in Gallagher, W. Va., the 911th Engineer Company (Technical Rescue) along with interagency partners, are conducting an annual training exercise with a focus on proficiency in technical rescue operations July 19-30.
<b> Unique unit </b>
The only unit of its kind in the Army, the 911th, stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va., strays from traditional engineering tasks such as repairing roads and building bridges; its sole purpose is saving lives. Using a skill set usually reserved for firefighters, emergency medical technicians and selected first responders, the 911th trains year-round in saving victims from confined spaces, collapsed buildings, crumpled vehicles, mines, tunnels and high elevations.
Formerly named the Military District of Washington Engineer Company, the 911th was re-labeled for the role it played in extracting victims from the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Aca,!A"They were perfectly suited for the situation that occurred on 9/11 where there was significant damage, a collapsed structure and casualties inside the building,Aca,!A? said Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, commander of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs important that the 911th is assigned to the Military District of Washington, because there are plans and contingencies when bad things happen to good people,Aca,!A? Horst explained.
<b> Interagency training </b>
The skills of the 911th are reserved strictly for the Washington area, as the nationAca,!a,,cs capital remains a viable target. The 911th also regularly partners with area agencies such as fire and police departments, and may be called to assist them in a catastrophe.
Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cre very concerned about the continued threat to the capital,Aca,!A? said Terrance Gainer, the sergeant at arms for the Senate. Aca,!A"One of the major concerns we have in Washington is that itAca,!a,,cs a target.Aca,!A?
Gainer, whose policemen work with the 911th in special circumstances, said it is important to coordinate with all agency emergency assets so that they donAca,!a,,ct meet for the first time during a disaster.
Aca,!A"We meet in peacetime, we practice in peacetime, and weAca,!a,,cre ready for the worst,Aca,!A? Gainer said.
While at the Center for National Response, Soldiers of the 911th practice their technical rescue skills by participating in scenario-based exercises developed by the CNR team. Scenarios include a post-blast rubble area, a cave complex, bunker site, a highline rescue area and confined-space rescue.
<b> Tunnel vision </b>
One of CNRAca,!a,,cs main training sites is a 2,800-foot, two-lane former highway tunnel originally built in the 1950s. Resembling a movie set with a mock subway station, movie theater, and post office, the tunnel provides scenario possibilities for chemical, biological, or drug laboratory entry and containment, underground search and rescue, counter-terrorist tactics and hostage rescue. The tunnelAca,!a,,cs versatility also makes it a top training venue for other government agencies such as the FBI, DEA and EPA.
Aca,!A"Inside of this tunnel, you can basically replicate any type of training that would help us accomplish our mission,Aca,!A? the 911thAca,!a,,cs 1st Sgt. Alexander H. Robles explained.
Aca,!A"This facility is really phenomenal. It really creates a venue where agencies that have to work together on an incident can come and work in a real-life situation,Aca,!A? agreed Arlington County Fire and Rescue Chief James Schwartz.
Several of Arlington CountyAca,!a,,cs firefighters have joined the 911th in collaborative training since the unitAca,!a,,cs inception.
An urban search and rescue dog pilot program, which incorporates military working dogs that can Aca,!A"sniff outAca,!A? disaster survivors, has added to this yearAca,!a,,cs exercise.
<b> Training or trauma </b>
Aca,!A"The Center for National Response does such a great job of setting up the area for our rescuers, itAca,!a,,cs training that weAca,!a,,cre not able to replicate anywhere else,Aca,!A? Robles said.
Robles said the scenarios are so realistic that he sometimes forgets itAca,!a,,cs just training.
Other 911th Soldiers agree, as the CNR provides equipment and training sites not available at their home station.
Aca,!A"The training is very intense Aca,!A| we have such a wide range of skills that we need to know and if you donAca,!a,,ct practice, you lose your proficiency,Aca,!A? said 2nd Lt. Ryan R. Kidd, platoon leader for the 911th.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs a lot of hard work,Aca,!A? agreed Spc. Robert J. Martinez, a combat engineer.
Martinez explained that one of the dilemmas for any first-responder is judging the risks of the rescue Aca,!"- if a rescuer is injured during a mission, it only confounds the situation. He said safety is always a major concern for technical rescuers.
Aca,!A"These guys work really hard and in an opportunity like this it really shows,Aca,!A? said Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy A. Robles, the 911thAca,!a,,cs platoon sergeant. Aca,!A"I absolutely enjoy it and this is one of the most motivating training events you can look forward to.Aca,!A?
The 911th is rapidly deployable and able to respond to an incident within two hours of notification, staying on location up to 10 days if necessary. Soldiers of the 911th are hand-selected by the unitAca,!a,,cs command and return to traditional engineering companies once their three-year tour is completed.