CONG emergency responders take second in the nation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Colorado National Guard, take second in the nation for emergency response time during an exercise evaluation (EXEVAL) here, Aug. 5, 2016.

The EXEVAL is a three-phase exercise that progressively becomes more challenging over the course of a week. Each phase, designated as "crawl, walk and run," tests the response time and capabilities of the National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Emergency Response Force Package (CERF-P), in preparation for a real world domestic emergency.

The "crawl" phase is the first part of the weeklong exercise, during which Soldiers and Airmen become familiar with the area, practice setting up equipment, and process a small number of volunteer casualties. EXEVAL evaluators come at the beginning of the exercise to help CERF-P make necessary changes before evaluation day. This gives the CERF-P a chance to get acquainted with their roles, the evaluators and the area.

The second part of the exercise is the "walk" phase. At this point, all members of CERF-P move faster and more smoothly.

There are six components of CERF-P. One of them is the 50-man Search and Extraction (S&E) team.

"S&E personnel enter into rubble areas in a hazardous material (HAZMAT) environment to extract people," said Lt. Col. Christopher S. McKee, battalion commander, 147th Brigade Support Battalion. The S&E team escorts victims and non-ambulatory personnel to the cold zone (non-hazardous area) for the decontamination process.

A 75-man decontamination team is another component of CERF-P, used to spray down victims, in an effort to clean off any toxic chemicals to which they may have been exposed.

"The decontamination team can run three lanes of people and process up to 225 casualties per hour," said McKee.

When decontamination is complete, the casualties are stabilized by medical personnel until they can be evacuated and follow-on medical care occurs, said McKee. There are 45 medical team members of CERF-P.

The Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT) is another important asset to the emergency response team. They are trained to properly identify bodies recovered through the rubble and provide families a chance to find peace with deceased loved ones after a catastrophic event occurs.

"The FSRT is comprised of eleven personnel, who are trained in mortuary affairs, who come in and recover the deceased," said McKee. "In a catastrophe, they provide a much needed service by helping victims find closure."

McKee said beyond the footprint (area that stretches from decontamination to medical and surrounding buffer zone), a 16-man command and control cell monitors all activities. They manage resources and report the progress of the CERF-P to the Incident Commander.

"We're designed to bridge the gap when first responders are quickly overcome with a high number of casualties," said McKee.

Between the time the life-threatening event takes place and when the dust settles, a lot needs to be done to save and preserve lives. That is the reason that EXEVALs are important.

On the fifth day, the "run" phase, the CERF-P will either be validated for its efforts and determined fit for duty, or they will not. The state decides based off of EXEVAL results.

McKee said CERF-P is evaluated inside a two hour, thirty minute window of time. The time starts when the IC shakes hands with the CERF-P and ends when they are ready to process a casualty. Not only did Colorado's CERF-P meet the standards, they exceeded them with a final time just shy of 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Sgt. 1st Class Joe B. Ziser, command and control operations non-commissioned officer in charge CERF-P, Colorado National Guard, said the CONG team came in second in the nation for emergency response time at 1 hour, 11 minutes, the second best time in the history of CERF-P.

Amidst the pile of rubble, the dust and debris in a real world situation, emergency response time can make the difference between life and death.

First responders and the National Guard are called on for a great mission but not just because they're military or first responders, but because it's what they believe in, it's what they do, explained Brian Callahan, Army contractor, evaluator and former CERF-P responder.

"It's a great mission that we pray we never have to do," said Callahan. "We train our troops to be prepared in case they ever have to perform the mission and if they do, it's simply Americans helping Americans."