NAIROBI, Kenya — In a collapsed building muffled cries can be faintly heard through a small hole in a concrete wall. Rescuers work frantically to cut through it and reach a trapped girl. Timing is everything, and the team has to work quickly and safely to get her out alive.
Training and preparation play a huge role in any rescue, and members of the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion and 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron teamed up with 30 members of the Kenya Disaster Response Unit to share knowledge and expertise during a five-day building collapse search and rescue course in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 25-29, 2013.
The course was used to increase the unit’s basic rescue skills and put them through various scenarios to build their confidence.
“The DRU is growing in size, and the national-level Kenyan authorities are pushing to increase capabilities of this team as part of their draft national response framework,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gerard Walsh, the deputy executive officer of the battalion. “This course is just one part of a multifaceted approach to help our Kenyan partners develop emergency and disaster response capabilities.”
There are currently 30 individuals assigned to the DRU. Kenyan officials are trying to increase the number to about 100 within the next year, by adding firefighting, hazardous material response and technical rescue skill sets, Walsh said.
“With more time and groundwork, they could develop a solid program that will give them basics to start building on,” said the Army reservist with more than 20 years of firefighting experience.
The expertise and knowledge shared during the visit focused on basic disaster skills needed for detection and extrication, and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa team helped the DRU sharpen its skills in an operational environment.
“Our main goal was showing the Kenyan team how to properly use and store their equipment,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Traska, a pararescueman with the 82nd ERQS.
He said the DRU members do search and rescue as a secondary duty, so it’s important the team not only knows how to use the equipment, but also how to store and have it ready if they’re ever called to action.
As part of the visit, the CJTF-HOA team developed several hands-on confined space exercise scenarios where the DRU could put what they learned into action and actually get to see the tools work firsthand, which included cutting through wood, concrete and steel, as well as finding and extracting dummies.
“The scenarios build confidence and force the members to work together as a team to access and extricate a victim,” Walsh said. “The scenarios weren’t designed to be too complicated – it was good practice for a basic-level course.”
The DRU members were eager and motivated to learn, and they really wanted to get their hands on the equipment and practice using it, he explained.
One may think it would be difficult to absorb such a large amount of information in five days but that wasn’t the case here.
“I saw a drastic improvement in the five days we were there,” Traska said. “But this is just a foundation they can use to start building upon.”
Continuing this type of training is also important in honing their skills, he added. Taking time to run through different scenarios to make sure they are using the equipment correctly and safely is the key to developing a solid disaster response program.
“They really learned a lot during the visit,” Walsh said. “By the end of the scenarios, you could see they were comfortable with the equipment and they had more confidence in themselves.”
These forward deployed and forward focused Airmen and Soldiers execute a variety of operations supporting CJTF-HOA to promote security and stability in the region.
CJTF-HOA supports partner nations in military-to-military engagements to defeat violent extremist organizations throughout East Africa.