News: Strengthening ties: Arizona Guard CST trains with northern state region
Story by Sgt. Lauren Twigg
SHOW LOW, Ariz. - Two victims are carried out of a building and stripped of their clothing by firefighter personnel who begin decontaminating them from exposure to an unidentified chemical. As the fire department battalion gets into position, other local agencies arrive to assist as well. The victims are rushed off to the hospital where they must seek additional treatment to severe burns from the exposure.
In the distance, two Black Hawk helicopters land, with several personnel dismounting with large, heavy containers. The personnel load onto a truck, and head to the site to begin a search of the building. Their mission: eliminate the threat with minimum delay.
The 91st Civil Support Team from the Arizona National Guard participated in a northern regional exercise, from June 3 to 6. The exercise, which was located in the cool pines of Show Low, involved local first responders, the 83rd CST from the Montana National Guard, and various other state and federal agencies.
“It is critical that we train with first responders so we can establish good communication, know how to deal with casualties, and coordinating with medical facilities in the area,” said Air Force Maj. Michael Spencer, operations officer for the 91st CST. “This is our first time working with Show Low for quite some time, so we are looking forward to rebuilding the relationship we share with this region.”
A National Guard civil support team is a joint group, which include personnel from the Army and Air Force, works with local authorities and provides additional support during times of emergency or where it has been suspected weapons of mass destruction have been implemented in an area. These highly-trained teams have capabilities to identify chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents and substances, assess current and projected consequences, and provide information and advise on a response solution.
While it has been quite some since the 91st CST has had an opportunity to train with the Show Low/Snowflake region located in Navajo County, the benefits of rekindling the relationship is worth ensuring the safety of the residents in that area.
“I’ve only been up here for four years so this is a first for me to work with the CST and it’s been a great relationship builder with the agencies up here,” said Clay Wood, battalion chief for Show Low Fire Dept. “It’s about networking and building relationships.”
Spencer stressed the importance of working with local agencies as well, “If we don’t have that relationship with the agencies, then there is no guarantee we can successfully work together on any level.” If the relationship amongst the agencies is already established, then there are no surprises when a real emergency occurs and we have to work together, Spencer said.
Communication is a key factor for the CST and for first responders as well. Through the use of radios, this is their primary methods of communication with personnel who are sent in to eliminate a threat, so it is essential any communication barriers amongst the various agencies are overcome.
“We have a robust communications section working directly with local first responders to obtain frequencies and establishing a universal “language” on the radio,” Spencer said. “We have to be more cognizant of our language on the radio and defer from military acronyms we are more commonly used to.”
During this exercise, we have had some verbal interference where we’ve had to determine more effective verbiage with one another by radio, Wood said.
Another part of the exercise was to simulate an aerial insertion. CST personnel with heavy containers and gear loaded up into two UH-60 Black Hawks, deployed from Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix, about 175 miles away, and then dropped off at the Show Low Municipal Airport.
“This was one of our commander’s objectives,” Spencer explained. “Our response area covers the entire state of Arizona, and when there is an incident a distance away from Phoenix, we must be capable of sending an “advance party” to assist initially with first responders on scene, in a more expeditious fashion.”
The drive is nearly four hours for the CST, which has a multi-truck convoy and ample pieces of heavy equipment and machinery.
“With an aerial insertion, our advance party was able to arrive here within an hour,” Spencer said. “During that time, the advance party responded while the rest of our CST waited behind at the airport timing out how long it would have taken for the rest of them to arrive after a 4-hour drive from Phoenix, so it made it more of a realistic scenario.”
The training objective was met with several scenarios in place, to test the agencies’ individual capabilities, as well as the ability to work together in the event of true emergency. One thing that can always be gained from training is learning new things.
This event was not just about building relationships, Wood said. “For us it was a huge learning experience for me and my department; our hazard personnel were able to observe the 91st CST, who train and do this on a regular basis, where we do not get that chance as often.”
Wood expressed his gratitude to the CST and Arizona National Guard, “This was a huge training opportunity for us and I want to give a major thanks to the Guard and their professional CST personnel. We are so grateful to rebuild these relationships with the Guard and it will benefit everyone in the long-run.”