By Ally Rogers, Photo Editor, Belvoir EagleFebruary 16, 2012
On Feb. 8, they were notified of the accident at 4 a.m.
An electrical fire trapped victims inside of a burning building, the pilot of the news chopper covering the event lost control causing it to plummet to the earth, while the passengers evacuated into a close-by thickly-wooded area.
Preparing for the worst, Fort Belvoir's 911th Engineer Company sent in a reconnaissance team. Upon arriving at the 911th motor pool, located on Goethals Road, the team assessed the situation and briefed the chain of command. From there, the Technical Rescue Team went into action.
"This scenario touches on all five of our disciplines," said Lt. Ryan Kidd, the technical advisor for the unit, listing ropes (vertical) rescue, confined space, mine/tunnel, trench, and structural collapse.
The burning building had two access points, but both were blocked by large concrete slabs. One team used nylon straps and a cable-ratchet tool to inch two of the three blocks off the tunnel entrance. The third block was pried off the tunnel with a 2-by-4 and metal bars. After clearing the smoke, the team entered the tunnel to extract victims with a variety of injuries.
Another team, using two concrete-cutting K960 saws, cut through the cement to create a hole into the second access point.
The helicopter wreckage was nearly 100-yards away. The initial assessment team extracted two victims, but more were under piles of rubble. An Arlington K-9 unit was called in to assist in locating these missing bodies.
"Since we're responsible for the National Capitol Region, anytime you have these types of scenario training it's good to have a unit that is 100 percent committed and trained," said Kidd, explaining that calling upon the assistance of external units and organizations only better prepares local first responders.
Another 50 yards beyond the downed chopper was another pile of rubble. This pile was made all the more complicated to navigate because of metal I-beams blocking entryways. The team designated for clearing this area used torches to cut through the metal in order to rescue any survivors.
In total the exercise, which was designed to last at least 12 hours, was completed in 11 hours.
"The exercise served as a great way to assess the level of proficiency of my two platoons as well as training my new operations (noncommissioned officers in charge) on the operating procedures of my Rescue Operations Center," said Turner. "It allowed us to identify key areas to improve, ultimately bettering our teaching processes and overall operations which in itself is a great success."
The 911th Engineer Company was originally activated on July 1, 1989, at Belvoir as the Military District of Washington Engineer Company, and was modeled after a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Heavy Task Force.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the unit was put to the ultimate test when terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the west side of the Pentagon killing 124 and injuring seven. For 10 days the company was engaged in rescue and recovery operations.
On Sept. 11, 2006, the five year anniversary of the attack on the Pentagon, the MDW Engineer Company was officially re-designated as the 911th Engineer Company.
"A lot of these guys have a different (military occupational specialty)," said Kidd. "They come to this unit and they have to learn a trade that is well outside of what they went to (advanced individual training) for."
Soldiers assigned to the Technical Rescue unit have a three year commitment. The first year, according to Turner, is spent training and becoming knowledgeable of the unit's duties, five disciples, and life saving treatment and stabilization of trauma victims.
The unit's mission is to conduct technical rescue engineer operations and provide military assistance to civilian authorities in support of the MDW and the Joint-Forces Headquarters-National Capitol Region's defense of the NCR. It's capable of deploying an Initial Response Team by air within two hours of notice and a by-ground convoy of the Main Body in three hours.
"Our company is designed to be self sustaining for 72 hours and with a resupply for to 10 days," said Turner.
The type of scenario training conducted last week is nothing new to this unit. In fact, the 911th typically executes in-depth scenario training every other month, while incorporating other exercises geared toward specific functions and techniques used by the Soldiers.
"This is as realistic of a training exercise as we can have without compromising safety," said Kidd.