Army Engineers Rescue Mock Disaster Victims During Guardian Response

April 24, 2018

Soldiers from 3rd Platoon, 22nd Engineer Clearance Company based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., brushed up on their search-and-rescue skills during the Guardian Response 18 exercise held here April 22.

The training scenario features searching for and treating victims in the aftermath of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear disaster.

“It usually takes them about 30 to 90 minutes to set up,” said George Nieves, an observer/controller from Fox Division Civil Support Training Facility, U.S. Army North. “The most important part is deciding where you want to put all of your equipment.”

Entering the ‘Hot Zone’

The first group of soldiers entering the “hot zone” area provides a 360-degree site characterization and situational map to the soldiers in the operations center.

Army Capt. Charles Robitaille described the training scenario.

“These guys come out here to render aid to these civilians who are trapped in a situation that requires rescue capabilities that would exceed what a normal fire department can render,” said Robitaille, who’s assigned with the 22nd ECC. “So [that includes] anything that requires technical lifting, heavy lifting, heavy objects, forcible entry into areas with a great deal of concrete or steel, and any scenario that requires the lowering or raising of victims with rope systems.”

Nieves said the six-person team walks methodically through the site; they are trying to identify where casualties are, what kind of tools are needed to rescue them, extract victims that are easily moved and provide medical aid. They then radio back to the soldiers outside of the contaminated area about what equipment the next team will need in order to extract the casualty out of the situation. This team also used chalk to write information on the rubble to communicate to the extraction team.

Searching for Casualties

One soldier writes a large, visible “V” to identify that there is at least one victim in the area. They also write a number identifying the number of victims and draw an arrow to indicate where the casualty is located.

“My soldiers’ responsibilities are to provide technical emergency search and rescue to the American people in order to preserve life and minimize suffering,” said Army 1st Sgt. Donald Salladay, 22nd ECC.

The soldiers in the 22nd ECC have all completed a 72-day course at Florida State Fire College to be pro board certified, a nationally accredited certification in fire services and related fields. For the first 55 days, the soldiers learn about the five major disciplines in technical search and rescue: confined space, vehicle machinery rescue, ropes rescue, technology decontamination and structural collapse. The last two weeks are U.S. Army North-driven external evaluations.

The reconnaissance team returns back to brief the next team about the situation. This second team will enter the “hot zone” with the necessary tools to start the process of rescuing the victims.

Staying Flexible

Even though they have the reconnaissance from their predecessors, these soldiers have to stay flexible and ready to problem solve. When their initial idea does not work, they quickly move on to the next.

Nieves explained that the soldiers also continually monitor the radiation levels to make sure it does not exceed a certain amount of radiation. If it does, they will send in new personnel. Once the contaminated soldiers depart the area and enter the “cold zone,” medical personnel will read and annotate the amount of radiation dose they have received so that it can be tracked how much radiation each soldier has been exposed to. This is tracked in the soldiers’ medical records for 20 years.

As the rescue team saves each casualty, two soldiers take the casualty back to the decontamination area. There the soldiers stripped down the casualty, wash them, rinse them, monitor them to make sure all the contamination is gone, wrap them in a blanket, and take them to a casualty collection point. There soldiers call for medical support who then transport the casualty to a facility for further medical care.