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    New Mexico National Guard secures win at annual HAZMAT Challenge

    New Mexico National Guard secures win at annual HAZMAT Challenge

    Photo By 1st Lt. Anna Doo | LANL, N.M. - Members of the New Mexico National Guard's 64th Civil Support Team -...... read more read more



    Story by 2nd Lt. Anna Doo 

    Joint Force Headquarters, New Mexico National Guard

    LOS ALAMOS, N.M. - One of the survey teams of the New Mexico National Guard’s 64th Civil Support Team – Weapons of Mass Destruction earned first place overall in the 20th Annual Los Alamos National Laboratory’s HAZMAT Challenge. The competition was held July 25-29, 2016, here, and saw nine teams compete for the coveted title. This is the second time in three years the 64th CST earned the top ranking.

    The team consisted of Army Capt. Ray Baca, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Lefevre, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Gwilt, Air Force Staff Sgt. Martin Garcia and Army Sgt. Cameron Carpenter. The mixture of Army and Air National Guardsmen is typical for the CST units across the nation as they are postured as a ready force capable of reacting on a moment’s notice to real-world events. As such, they train weekly both as sections of the unit as well as on the unit level as a whole.

    Baca said the success at the HAZMAT Challenge is due in large part because of the continuous training the team undergoes. “We have a guy here, Capt. Kelley Williams, he’s like a CST gypsy who has been on a bunch of teams and he said he’s never seen a survey team train like these guys do at home station. I think that helped these guys a lot,” said Baca.

    Lefevre echoed these statements and said, “On a weekly basis we have some survey, section-led training focused on parts of our job that we welcome the other sections to come in and learn. Even though we are a 22 man team, other sections have their roles and responsibilities, while survey are more of the downrange, well-versed with equipment, gear and hazards, we don’t do some of the other jobs.”

    This was apparent during the competition when the teams were required to properly fill out an Incident Command Form 208 as part of each of the eight scenarios. Gwilt said the operations section typically cares for this aspect of an incident response and he ended up being designated as the member who had to learn on the fly the appropriate way to gather and annotate all the required information.

    “While every year you can expect there to be eight scenarios and you can kind of guess what those eight are going to be and how they might play out, the hardest part this year was they had us filling out ICS Form 208,” said Gwilt. “With our team, we don’t even fill out ICS Forms. When we got there this year and they handed us the 208, every single one of us kind of looked at it and it slowly made its way through each of us until it landed on me. I thought, I guess we should figure out how to fill this out then.”

    Gwilt said the requirement to properly complete the form at each scenario made the competition interesting and that it was one of the biggest training points for each of the teams in attendance. Part of the benefit of this annual competition is the training these seasoned teams are offered in addition to the competition scenarios themselves. The LANL trainers conduct classes on topics ranging from biological hazards to railroad specific response to particular chemical agents. Baca said the 64th CST crew is so well-versed in some of these areas, the classes morphed into conversations as they already had a solid comprehension of the training material.

    The scenarios crafted for the teams from across the nation included a mass decontamination, an overturned tanker leaking a substance, a radiological lane, and a confined space rescue among others. After the technical challenges, each team completed the obstacle course. The evaluators set up a mock scenario based on a real-world incident that occurred in Taos, N.M., last year where a man arrived at the emergency room in a heightened level of duress leaving behind a trail of toxic bodily fluids. The 64th CST responded to that incident, secured the area with the assistance of local law enforcement, triaged the other civilians in the area and assessed the threat. They found that a man had consumed aluminum phosphide and that it reacted with his body creating a biohazard contamination of the hospital’s emergency department.

    The scenario at the HAZMAT challenge was similar and once the team recognized the familiarity they were able to react swiftly and adeptly diffused the situation. Gwilt said because the team members all have military training and combat training, they were prepared to handle the LANL students who were acting as patients and hospital employees to secure the scene. He said other teams seemed to have a difficult time reacting to the chaos the element of distressed civilians adds to a scenario.

    Carpenter, the most junior member of the team, said his most memorable scenario was the confined space rescue and threat assessment. He said it involved a series of tunnels that were filled with smoke causing visibility to be almost nil. They were required to find a casualty and mitigate a steam leak. He said they were shown a map of the tunnel system prior to entering and given a rod to use to feel out the way ahead. After the scenario was complete, the evaluator said a steam leak at 3000 psi is capable of breaking limbs thus the reason to use a rod to feel out the way as opposed to human hands.

    Another aspect of the annual competition is the opportunity to network with fellow hazardous material response teams from emergency response elements of all types. Gwilt said some of the teams have scores of years of expertise and bring that knowledge to the weeklong competition. He and Lefevre are the veterans of this year’s four-man team while Carpenter and Garcia are relatively new. The mixture of abilities and skills each team member brings serves to complement the others and allow for a cohesive front to assess the threats put before them.

    With the overall win under their belts, besting the competition in both the Technical Event and Obstacle Course stages, the 64th CST aims to continue their consistent training maintaining a posture of readiness at all times. They hope to attend some additional competitions as mission allows but understand their primary focus is to train, prepare and respond to whatever scenario may crop up on the real world stage.



    Date Taken: 07.27.2016
    Date Posted: 08.10.2016 16:45
    Story ID: 206744
    Location: LOS ALAMOS, NM, US 
    Hometown: RIO RANCHO, NM, US

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