Guard soldiers rescue 'victims' trapped in parking garage

Monday, October 01, 2012

In the aftermath of a simulated nuclear explosion, one of the most important tasks to perform is locating survivors, many of whom would be suffering not only from injuries, but also from radiation exposure.

Such was the task for the chemical and medical soldiers from the Alabama National Guard as they conducted night search and rescue operations during Vibrant Response 13.

VR13 is a major incident exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North.

Searching for "survivors" in the daylight is difficult enough, but searching at night offered yet more urgency to an already daunting task.

"The scenario is that five days after a simulated nuclear attack on a major Midwest city, search and rescue teams have been sent in to a collapsed parking garage to rescue survivors," James Barkley, division chief for Golf Division, Civil Support Training Activity, Army North, said.

Adding, "Once they have been rescued, they have to be decontaminated and given medical treatment."

As night fell on Muscatatuck, cries from "injured" people could be heard from a local parking garage.

Now it was up to the soldiers of the 1152nd Fire Fighting Detachment, 877th Engineer Battalion, 226th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, based at Fort McClellan, Ala., to commence the methodical process of rescuing "survivors" from the collapsed parking structure.

"Search and rescue operations are much more difficult at night because low visibility conditions make it difficult to see the survivors and to operate the saws, torches and other equipment needed to extract people," Lt. Col. John Lipscomb, commander, 151st Chemical Battalion, Alabama National Guard, based out of Gadsden, Ala., said.

Before the soldiers were able to attempt to rescue those in need from the potentially unstable building, they first had to stabilize the structure by using a "T-shore" device.

"It is a very slow process to build a T-shore," Spc. Timothy Reynolds, 1152nd Fire Fighting Detachment, said.

"It takes about 10 minutes to measure and build the T-shore and to put it in place. It is a very slow process – but our safety is important. We cannot help anyone if we are hurt," he added.

Once extracted the "victims" are moved to a decontamination area and examined by medical personnel.

The decontamination and medical exam portion of the exercise was conducted by soldiers from the 1343rd Chemical Company, 151st Chemical Battalion, 31st Chemical Brigade, Athens, Ala., along with the troops from the 128th Medical Company, 62nd Troop Command, Ashland, Ala.

The decon process is perhaps somewhat comparable to putting people through a car wash.

"The first thing we do at the decontamination site is to remove the person’s clothing and destroy the clothes," Spc. Dale Kucker, a chemical specialist with the 1343rd Chemical Company, said.

Adding, "If they are ambulatory, they can remove their clothes themselves; otherwise, we cut the clothing off. Once the clothing has been removed, they move to a shower where the hazardous material is removed."

Afterward, they are processed through a drying room and provided clean clothing before, once again, being tested for radiation levels.

Once deemed "decontaminated," they undergo an examination by medical personnel before moving on to a processing station where a team records their names, injuries and determines the category of care (expectant, delayed, immediate or minimal) needed for treatment.

"The categories are based upon their initial radiation levels as well as their medical issues," Spc. Demetruia Parker, 1343rd Chemical Company, said.

While the training may prove a challenge, it is specifically designed to enhance the soldiers capabilities if called upon to respond to a real-life situation.