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    Soldiers, firefighters launch unique mass casualty exercise at Al Faw Palace

    mass casualty exercise

    Photo By Sgt. Kristin Kemplin | Firefighter Jesse Walsh, a native of Portland, Ore., rappels down the 70-foot face of...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Kristin Kemplin 

    363rd Public Affairs Detachment

    CAMP VICTORY, Iraq " Fire Station-One, one of two stations run by the fire department on Camp Liberty, is primarily responsible for protecting Multi-National Division " Baghdad Soldiers.

    To better protect MND-B Soldiers, the department volunteered to work with Multi-National Corps " Iraq to further the department's expertise in a unique setting, the Al Faw Palace.

    The firefighters of Heavy Rescue 621, Fire Station-One, together with Engine Company 611 of Fire Station-Two on Camp Victory, participated in a mass-casualty scenario organized by MNC-I.

    Touted as 'the MASCAL to end all MASCALs" by palace staff, Soldiers of MNC-I, working with Camp Liberty's Fire Station-One firefighters, launched the exercise April 14 to test the effectiveness of policies and procedures that military leadership had put in place for emergency situations.

    After conducting an internal mass-casualty exercise in January at the palace, military leaders felt the scenarios should be more complex and involve more emergency responders, said Maj. Kevin Titus, operations officer, Special Troops Battalion, MNC-I.

    "We realized we needed to go that next step and involve the fire department, the troop medical clinics, the military police, and all the outside agencies that would actually be there in a real emergency," said Titus.

    Although the fire department, operated by Wackenhut Services Inc.'s WSI Fire and Emergency Services " Iraq, participates in military mass-casualty exercises on a quarterly basis, the department likes 'to do different scenarios each time to test our capabilities," said Stan Cole, fire chief, WSI, which encompasses Camps Victory, Liberty, Striker, Dublin and Cropper.

    For MNC-I's exercise, the department was given just enough information about the scenario 'that we know what to bring, but we don't know all the details so we still have to be reactive," said Cole, a native of Atlanta, Ga.

    The exercise at the palace began with reports that the structure had received several direct mortar hits and suffered numerous casualties. Aid and litter teams inside the palace rushed into action, diligently searching each floor for wounded Soldiers. Once casualties were discovered and treated, they were evacuated to a nearby casualty collection point.

    To make the exercise more realistic, some casualties were taken by ambulance to troop medical clinics, and a few were transported to the Mercy Landing Zone in preparation for medical evacuation by helicopter to the combat support hospital in Baghdad.

    Adding complexity to the exercise was the fire department HR team's evacuation of a casualty from the palace roof. Upon receiving the report of an injured worker on the roof, trapped under a fallen structural beam, HR-621 climbed the ornate staircases leading to the top of the palace.

    "Those spiral staircases are very steep and very slippery," said Titus. "In my mind, I was thinking (the firefighters) were going to have to carry the casualty down that spiral staircase in a litter," said Titus. "As soon as we got up there, they were like "hey, we could rappel him off of the roof.""

    An emergency evacuation using ropes to transport a casualty to a safer location is often a last resort, saved for an occasion similar to the Al Faw scenario where 'the person is incapacitated and we aren't able to get him down the stairway or if there's not a stairway for him to come down," said Jake Myers, theater chief of operations, WSI.

    The casualty, represented by 200 pounds of rubber fire hose, was "packaged" onto a litter and secured by the four-man HR team. The litter was then secured by a highly technical configuration of ropes and carabineers in preparation for the evacuation to medical personnel 70 feet below. The "Strength and Honor" HR team performed four safety checks and prepared several "back-ups," ropes tied in the event other knots fail, before preparing to lower the litter over the edge of the palace's 70-foot high wall.

    This is the true test of the rope-rescue system " when the full weight of the litter is held by the knots and suspended in the air, said Firefighter Jason Lech, of HR-621, who calls Seattle home. "Everyone holds their breath â?¦ ah, okay, he's three feet down, we're good to go," described Lech.

    Firefighter Jesse Walsh, hooked to the litter by only ropes and carabineers, swung himself off the roof and grabbed hold of the litter. Walsh, a native of Portland, Ore., walked the litter down the face of the palace to waiting emergency personnel on the ground. With their mission completed, the firefighters then set to work untying the massive amounts of rope required for the exercise.

    This was a great opportunity for the firefighters to familiarize themselves with Al Faw, 'the palace being a primary target and one of our primary responsibilities as fire protection," said Mitchum, of Islamorada, Fla.

    "We really welcome any opportunities to participate on any level, but especially something as serious as this where we really get to be reminded of the operation and the mission we are really here for," said Mitchum.

    The coordination between different agencies benefited all those involved, said Titus. In a time of emergency, 'these agencies will know each other by sight and will have worked together before and it will pay off."

    These exercises give the military leadership assistance in assessing how best 'to maintain operational readiness so that they can do the mission they were brought here to do," said Cole.

    The drill also presented one challenge that will require further planning to overcome. Communication between the various emergency elements and the staff of the palace proved to be a major stumbling block. "Structure and steel all around us made communications very hard," said Mitchum.

    An incident on the roof involving "a friend of the casualty" who was distraught increased the firefighter's awareness of how difficult communications can be within the palace.

    "We are building a pretty technical system to lower somebody, and here's a guy swinging a tool that could probably hurt somebody," said Mitchum, of the "distraught" Soldier, who was carrying a large axe. "Back home, we are trained to have the police just take him away from the scene."

    "The palace doesn't lend itself to good communication," explained Titus, referring to the large, echoing spaces in the mammoth structure. Communicating clearly to other elements within the palace becomes "virtually impossible unless you send a runner," said Titus.

    Soldiers and firefighters alike agreed they are more aware of the problems they may face in a true emergency thanks to the realism and challenges of this exercise.

    Titus said he has already started thinking of future scenarios to test both his Soldiers and the fire department. He would like to take the training to an as-yet "untouched" level: conducting a mass casualty exercise at night.

    "It would be a very different animal to do this at night, which, by the way, is when most of the mortar attacks happen," said Titus.



    Date Taken: 05.01.2006
    Date Posted: 05.01.2006 11:42
    Story ID: 6187
    Location: BAGHDAD, IQ 

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