Emergency: U.S., host nation first responders put to the test
September 6, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany, Sept. 6, 2011 -- It was anything but a normal morning on Wiesbaden Army Airfield Aug. 27 as residents were shaken by the sound of a car explosion, pistol shots and emergency vehicles streaming onto the installation.
It was all part of an annual, full-scale, force protection exercise aimed at sharpening U.S. and host nation first reponders' ability to react in the case of a terrorist attack, disaster or other emergency situation.
"We do this once a year with German and American participation," said Col. Jeffrey Dill, USAG Wiesbaden commander, adding that police, fire department and other personnel network with their counterparts throughout the year to hone communication and response capabilities.
As observers from the Installation Management Command-Europe, other garrisons and local host nation fire and rescue organizations took notes, more than 300 individuals quickly sprang into action to provide assistance. Quick Response Force, or QRF, and Military Police Soldiers assessed the situation, provided immediate aid and secured the area.
As the scenario developed it became apparent that in addition to the vehicle explosion, yellow smoke indicated that a chlorine gas leak had contaminated the scene and an armed assailant was somewhere in the vicinity. First responders quickly communicated the threat, safeguarded the area and neutralized the "perpetrator."
"This is not only an exercise for the U.S. Forces and Americans," said Frank Boerger, a spokesman for the Wiesbaden Fire Department. "We all profit from this."
Boerger explained that with the Wiesbaden military community continuing to transform and expand, it's vital that host nation first responders continue to update their ability to react should an emergency occur on one of the garrison installations.
"Communication is the key," he said.
Joint patrols with military and host nation police officers, partnership training and other events throughout the year are all aimed at helping streamline response efforts and enhancing communication, said Lt. Col. Mikel Russell, USAG Wiesbaden's director of emergency services.
"Communication is much better than in the past," Russell said. "We know each other on a first-name basis."
Through joint training, law enforcement officers understand how their partners would handle different situations, he said.
"And we do joint patrols so the German police know their MP counterparts," he explained.
Providing host nation organizations with a better understanding of how the U.S. military operates and insight into the many new facilities rising around the garrison as part of transformation are also crucial in planning, Russell said. The garrison's director of emergency services explained that the coming year will see a concerted focus on strengthening ties between U.S. and host nation fire departments and other first responders.
"We've got much bigger structures with more people inside," he said, explaining that in the event of an emergency, special rescue equipment, such as heavy cranes provided by the host nation's Technisches Hilfswerk (federal-level disaster response agency), might be required. "We plan to meet to formalize everything in March."
As the "injured" were rendered immediate aid and sorted for treatment at local facilities, many were taken through a decontamination facility on site, because of the gas leak.
Among the many German and American responders on the scene were Army chaplains offering spiritual support and consolation.
"We basically provide religious support and prayers," said Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Shriver, 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion chaplain, "morale and spiritual support."
Shriver added that in addition to offering comfort and support, the chaplains also help identify those in immediate need of medical help. "If there's an immediate need we try to alert people."
At the conclusion of the exercise those on the scene and behind the scenes shared observations and discussed things that worked well and areas that could possibly be improved.
"In an emergency, not everything goes smoothly," said the garrison commander. "This helps us identify areas needing improvement and shows us how we can do better next time."