News: VTANG QRF trains in winter conditions
Story by Senior Airman Victoria Greenia
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. - The VTANG QRF is a pivotal second responder for the state during emergencies, making sure medical and emergency personel can get where they are needed. Annual training like this keeps the QRF sharp and ready.
On March 16, members of the Vermont Air National Guard serving on the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) spent the day learning how to be second responders during a state emergency. First they took to the icy roads with heavy vehicles, then reviewed safety protocol involving chainsaws, and finally went to the Ethan Allen Firing Range to get some hands-on experience using chainsaws to dissect fallen trees.
It was part of annual training for the group whose mission as outlined by the military is to “assist civil or military authorities to promote stability and security in the state, territory, and nation.”
The Vermont National Guard QRF was pivotal in the handling and delivering of FEMA relief aid to Vermonters after a serious storm in August 2011. Although Hurricane Irene had downgraded to Tropical Storm Irene by the time it squalled over Vermont, unlucky areas had streams that became rivers and rivers that became deluges of unrestrained currents which swallowed cars, upturned houses, and washed away livelihoods.
Helping residents evacuate their flooded homes, or plucking people from dangerous situations where flash floods threatened their lives, the QRF braved weather that most sought refuge from. That type of heroism doesn’t come from fool-hardy, off-the-cuff decisions.
“It stems from experience, sound planning and, above all, essential training,” 1st Lt. Christopher Bean, VTANG’s operations officer and the real push behind its QRF preparation activities, said. “What we did in March involved maneuvering in large vehicles on icy roads, safely using chainsaws as a team when communication may be impossible, and clearing roads that have been cluttered with debris.”
Often an important part of the group’s task during natural disasters is making sure medical and emergency vehicles can get where they are needed. Emergency medical technicians have no time to waste and trees that have fallen across the road present an obstacle that could cost lives when every second counts.
The QRF is not a first-responder team, but is there to help first responders get to where they need to go. And although the group can’t activate itself (the Vermont Emergency Management has to request aid), the members are responsible for reporting within four hours and being ready for anything.
Master Sgt. Andrea Senecal with the weapons shop is a member of the quick reaction force who learned how to use a chainsaw during the ICEX. She said before the training she had been too intimidated to ever use one. But with the team she cut trees and learned the easiest way to push logs more than twice her weight out of the way.
“I was excited for this training,” she said. “The instructors were patient and knowledgeable, and it was good to get familiar with the safety gear. If I had been called to help in clearing road debris before, I would have been useless. But now I am another able body. When a distressed civilian sees this uniform, they expect a level of skill from me and now I can deliver.”
Bean agreed that military uniforms are seen as a source of safety during a crisis. “During an emergency, our presence as the National Guard represents hope and confidence to a suffering community,” he said. “My goal is to have a quick reaction force that is competent and skilled. I look for every opportunity for our group to get more practice.”
Both hope the force will soon get some training using forklifts, a machine that is essential when supplies need to be distributed.