By Staff Sgt. Thomas Wheeler and Staff Sgt. Dennis Gravelle, New York Army National GuardNovember 22, 2010
POMONA, NY (11/20/2010) - React to, and contain, a structure fire at a suspected drug lab, or worse, a suspected terrorist attack involving chemical weapons.
That was the mission of the Soldiers, Airman, and New York Guard members assigned to the New York National Guard's 24th Civil Support Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction andthe CERFP (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package), were given at an exercise held at the Rockland County Fire Training Center here.
More than 400 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, the volunteer New York Guard (A state defense force) , and participating Rockland County-based law enforcement and emergency response took part in the Defense Support to Civil Authorities exercise.
Like a clip from the movie "Sum of All Fears" with Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman, figures in yellow and blue chemical protection suits with hi-tech gadgets that looked like they were straight out of an episode of Star Trek, checked the site for deadly chemicals and evacuated the wounded to decontamination tents for treatment.
"These exercises are mandatory to maintain our proficiency," said Lt. Col. David, Gagnon, commander of the 104th Military Police Battalion and the CERFP. "The CERFP generally rotates the location of the exercise to integrate with different communities throughout New York State in order to show local authorities what capabilities we bring."
The exercise began with a call to the local fire department about a structure fire and quickly resulted in a call for back up from the Rockland County Hazardous Materials Team.
"My team went in with normal firefighter protective equipment and reported back that there were multiple casualties with a heavy, strong chemical odor," said Pete Byrne, Incident Commander and Assistant Fire Chief for the Pomona, NY, Fire Company. " At that point I backed our crews out and called for the Rockland County hazardous materials team," added Bryne.
"They [Rockland County HAZMAT] arrived on the scene and went down with meters confirming that there were multiple casualties and several DOA's (Dead on Arrivals), two live casualties, heavy smoke conditions in the building,' added Bryne. "What they found inside made us realize that this was much more than just a normal household materials incident so we backed out again and called in the military to come in and assist."
The New York National Guard's 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST)quickly responded and performed a thorough check of the area to determine what chemical, biological or radiological agents may be present.
After determining the danger, extraction elements of the CERFP descended on the scene and evacuated the wounded for treatment at decontamination facilities set up on the hill above the scene.
New York Army and Air National Guard personnel quickly responded to casualties requiring assistance and separated each based on ambulatory category treating and decontamination the wounded as well as response personnel.
Gagnon and Byrne both stressed the benefits of recurring joint civilian, military disaster training.
"Once they see it they really start to understand what type of force we are and how we can help to facilitate any kind of decontamination and treatment of casualties when their capabilities have been exceeded," added Gagnon. "It also helps us to better integrate and learn about local authorities and what assets they have," said Gagnon.
"I think it's a win," Bryne said of the exercise. "It establishes relationships between emergency services and the military that from our experience are critical to the success of an incident response."
The CERFP currently consists of Soldiers assigned to the Kingston based 104th MP Battalion, the Brooklyn based 222nd Chemical Company, search and extraction teams from the Kingston based 1156th Engineer Company, medical elements of the New York Air National Guard and volunteers from the New York Guard.
The New York Air National Guard provides medical personnel for the CERFP medical section. Airmen from the 105th Security Forces Squadron of the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, provided the security detachment for the exercise.
The 104th recently took control of the CERFP mission from the 102nd MPs based in Auburn, NY and conducted training and validations on July 1, 2010 at the Camp Smith Training Area, Cortlandt Manor, NY.
The New York National Guard trains regularly to work with civilian authorities in natural disasters or terrorist attacks, said Brig. Gen. Renwick Payne, the Director of the Joint Staff.
"Our Soldiers and Airmen are trained and ready to respond to any emergency around the state from ice storms, to flooding, to chemical, radiological or biological attacks, he said.