WARRENTON, Oregon – The biting cold onshore breeze stabs through the buildings at Camp Rilea on the Oregon coast, just south of Astoria. The salt stained air is brightly lit by the steel grey sky. It is definitely woobie weather.
The cold weather helps keep service members cool inside the level B hazmat suits they have to wear to practice operations in a hazardous environment, according to Sgt. Aaron J. Stiner with the 102nd Oregon CERFP “A soldier can lose 5 to 15 pounds of body weight while working in a level B hazard suit.”
The 102nd Oregon Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) is a part of the Homeland Response Force, established by the Department of Defense. According to the National Guard Bureau, the 102nd CERFP provides incident response at the direction of the Oregon State Governor. The mission of the CERFP is to save lives and mitigate human suffering during an emergency.
“This is an introductory course for CBRN response elements. This is where they learn the basics of disaster response” said Capt. Brian W. Bodie, the operations and training officer for the 102nd Oregon CERFP, “there is an academic portion where they learn about things like spill response. And then there is a hands on part where they learn to put on and move around in the suits that will protect them. They learn to put the suits on and take them off and how to help their buddies out.”
The level B suits are bulky and consist of thick rubber boots, a non-permeable water proof overall with a hood, rubber gloves, and a mask that can be hooked up to a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus consisting of an air tank and hose, or a Powered Air-Purifying Respirator. The suits are taped up and the mask, boots, and gloves are secured to the Soldier, or Airman using a special chemical resistant tape.
“So we actually got dressed, we put on our boots and then we put on the suit and the boots and then we got taped down by our battle buddies. We put on the mask, which is, like, really tight on my face. And we went out we put on air tanks. I was pretty nervous about that. But it wasn’t that scary,” said Spc. Melissa Benitiz with C co. 741st Brigade Engineer Battalion.
The Soldiers and Airmen completed training that would certify them to assist during an emergency involving chemical, biological or radiological hazards. This training is required to be a member of the 102nd Oregon CERFP.
“The class was really hard but I passed the written test this morning. You have to study. And then we did the hands on. It was pretty exciting,” said Spc. Benitez.
The Hazardous Operations training course consists of classroom instruction and use of the specialized equipment. It also includes a comprehensive written test. And a hands on evaluation where students suit up. Students are certified by nationally accredited emergency management organizations. This training is a foundation for careers in the civilian world of emergency management.
“If a service member is interested in a career in emergency management, these are foundational skills that are going to look great on their resumes. If you were going to pay for a civilian course like this at PCC (Portland Community College) it could cost thousands of dollars,” said Capt. Bodie, “we are able to bring those instructors from PCC out here and offer it to our service members at no cost [to the individual]. It’s a great benefit, and it’s great training.”