By Sgt. Mark MirandaApril 13, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD -- Soldiers in gas masks and dull gray chemical hazard suits line up to be scrubbed down and rinsed off at adjacent stations set up like an assembly line. They are the 547th Area Support Medical Company, role playing personnel who have been exposed to hazardous materials.
The Soldiers decontaminating them wear the same protective equipment to include rubber boots, gloves and sealing tape wrapped at the wrists, neck and anywhere dust or vapors could slip through the suits.
While taking the training seriously, this scrub-down decontamination is open to a little bit of fun, and soon the Soldiers are singing a disco song about "working at the car wash." Some take to dancing, but comment about how the suit "rides up in the (buttocks)." These Soldiers are trying the suits for the first time, which are used primarily by civil support personnel and are designed more for functionality than comfort.
The 547th ASMC trained and certified with U.S. Army North on Hazardous Material Operations and Awareness April 10-13. The 547th ASMC will take on a mission supporting a civil support joint task force of first-responders to disaster areas.
The first few days consisted of in-class training with a focus on the medical role that the 547th's Soldiers play in mass casualty decontamination.
"These are the basics. It's very intensive, very mission-specific training for our mission. When we come out of this we'll be qualified to perform decontamination. These (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives) familiarity classes will figure into two future training exercises," said Capt. A.J. Maccini, commander of 547th ASMC.
The company, a part of 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, is preparing for Yakima Training Center exercise evaluations in May, and an exercise in Indiana called Vibrant Response in July.
The Department of Defense maintains trained personnel to respond to devastated areas as part of the National Response Plan. The National Response Framework uses the term Defense Support of Civil Authorities to describe support that DOD provides to civil authorities. Under the 62nd Medical Brigade, 56th MMB will be part of the DOD's joint task force.
"All of these exercises we're doing will get us ready for the DCRF mission; Defense CBRNE Reaction Force beginning in October to support the Department of Defense Joint Task Force," said Sgt. Sal Sifuentes, a combat medic from Corpus Christi, Texas.
"This DCRF mission, in a worst-case scenario, would call us in to respond to the use weapons of mass destruction. We would deal with things like a release of hazardous gasses or a biological attack. We would also respond if, say, a train tips over and spills chlorine, oxygen tanks. If a wildfire spreads into a refinery with bad results -- all kinds of possibilities," Sifuentes said.
The next phase was field training to learn about hazardous materials, how to protect responders using the varying degrees of personal protective equipment, and how to physically conduct technical decontamination.
"For the training, we're using chemical resistant splash suits that offer "level C" protection. The suits in use are classified A as the highest level of protection, down to D-class," said Kirby Lastinger, lead instructor from Safety Solutions, contracted by ARNORTH to conduct training with 547th ASMC.
"The C-class suit protects against incidental splash with a mask for protection from dust, mist or vapors coming off of hazardous material. This level of protection is required for most biological or chemical hazards," Lastinger said.
"The two major missions we have are teaching these Soldiers how to use the personal protective equipment, then run a decontamination point. We also touch on patient movement, and have emergency response personnel with us to demonstrate things like casualty carries," Lastinger said.
Putting the Soldiers through different training events while wearing the suits gives them some idea of how they must work with reduced dexterity, visual impairment and reduced verbal capability.
"For a lot of our younger Soldiers, this is their first time seeing this. We have dental techs, lab techs so this is new for some of us. Very few of us have done this in prior civilian work, but everyone is catching on," Sifuentes said.
The U.S. Army works to comply with federal and state environmental laws. One way this is done is to have Soldiers train to properly handle hazardous materials.
Any Soldiers or Department of the Army civilians who handle hazmat should receive hazardous material training annually, and it's up to unit commanders to ensure they meet this requirement.
A one-day hazardous materials certification course is normally done in a classroom environment. An overview of environmental laws and storage and inventory of hazmat are among the subjects reviewed. A written examination is given at the conclusion of the training, and 547th ASMC completed this on Friday.