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Colorado National Guard taps firefighter expertise 
By Army Capt. Michael Odgers, Colorado Army National Guard Public Affairs 
Members of the Colorado National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-yield Explosive (CBRNE)-Enhanced Response Force Package’s decontamination team push a simulated victim through a decontamination station April 10, 2010 in Lakewood, Colo. The CERPFP was participating in an exercise with Colorado’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force at the West Metro Fire Training Center in April10-11. (Official U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael Odgers/Released)
LAKEWOOD, Colo. (4/10/10) – The West Metro Training Center opened its doors to the Colorado National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-yield Explosive (CBRNE)-Enhanced Response Force Package April 10-11.

CERFP, an acronym within an acronym, is a rapidly deployable unit capable of providing immediate response capability to a governor for a CBRNE incident. CERFP is broken down into four primary capabilities: medical personnel provide evaluation and triaging for evacuation; Decontamination personnel provide mass decontamination; and search and extraction personnel search for victims and extract them from collapsed structures. The final element, command and control, is the glue that holds the seams together.

The unit is comprised of almost 200 Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen.

The Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Medical Group fills the medical section. The remaining sections are filled almost entirely by Soldiers of the COARNG’s 147th Brigade Support Battalion. The headquarters element itself provides command and control while Headquarters Company and Company A handle the decontamination section. The search and extraction team is filled by the BSB’s Company B.

Previously, CERFP was made up of volunteers who spent an extra drill weekend each quarter training for the mission. Recently however, the 147th BSB was assigned the mission in addition to its primary mission. Many Soldiers and Airmen have chosen to continue training once a quarter with the CERFP to add their experience and knowledge to the team.

Knowledge and expertise was at the heart of the training at the West Metro Training Center, a new 10-acre training site for emergency responders used by Colorado’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. It has numerous training aides that allow firefighters to realistically train to fight tower fires and residential building burns. These facilities provide the heat and smoke seen in the scenarios firefighters are likely to encounter in a real fire. Some refer to it as a Disneyland for firefighters.

It’s the site’s collapsed structure training facility – full of broken and twisted concrete, collapsed walls and even a car buried beneath several feet of rubble – where CERFP’s search and extraction team received the majority of its training.

Both the facility and the knowledge of those who train there made this center the perfect place to conduct this type of training. It allowed the CUSRTF and the CERFP to learn one another’s capabilities and limitations, as well as develop interagency relationships. It is very likely that these two organizations would be working hand-in-hand during an emergency.

The CUSRTF is comprised mostly of firefighters with a few medical personnel, dog handlers and structural engineers from around the Front Range, who, like the CERFP, train on this valuable mission in addition to their normal duties. The CERFP tapped into its knowledge and experience to provide a valuable training opportunity to its members.

“This was a fantastic opportunity for us to learn what the CERFP brings to the table – in both equipment and abilities, to learn what their capabilities and limitations are, and develop those relationships that will help us work together,” said Capt. Rod Tyus, a West Metro firefighter and the CUSRTF commander.

On the first day of training, CUSRTF members set up lanes on the collapsed structure site to train the CERFP’s extraction team on extraction techniques involving debris movement and breaching concrete walls and building debris with heavy duty drills and power saws.

“Everyone is interested and willing to learn and squared away with the basics,” said Chris MacDonald, City of Denver firefighter and a rescue specialist with the CUSRTF. MacDonald served as an instructor on breaching techniques. “This is a different spin for us – we are usually the students. It’s good for us because it gives us a great chance to get back to the basics.”

“Even on active duty I have never been part of an event with several outside organizations – plus access to a training facility like this with all the raw materials already set up to go,” said Spc. Shawn Harpstrite, a mechanic with Company B. “The West Metro instructors are great. They have a wealth of knowledge to draw from because they do this day in and day out.”

“You think you’re going to be here one weekend a month two weeks a year, but with taking on the CERFP mission, you are drawn into not only your civilian job, but your (drill weekend) mission and the CERFP mission. It’s going to be a challenge,” Harpstrite added.

The second day of the exercise involved scenarios and both the CUSRTF and the CERFP members worked together as a team implementing the techniques they practiced the day before.

 One scenario involved entering a collapsed structure to rescue a victim from a buried car. The search and rescue team moved enormous blocks to reach an area to breach and used saws and drills to cut a hole big enough to get crew and equipment in and a victim out.

But that was only the start.

Extraction proceeded to crawling around a car crushed under thousands of pounds of concrete to safely remove a victim and carry him back through the entrance they breached.

The kids on the playground with the big toys were clearly the search and extraction team. However they were not the only ones training. The decontamination and medical teams were also training.

Members of the 140th Medical Group set up medical evaluation tents and treated simulated victims. Fellow Soldiers and 595th Varsity Scouts from Colorado Springs, Colo., served as the simulated victims. Dispersed across the piles of concrete rubble, they provided a challenge to those evaluating and evacuating them to be decontaminated and medically treated.

The 140th Medical Group’s primary mission is to provide medical support to the 140th Wing, but they are also required to maintain proficiency at providing expeditionary medical support that involves the temporary construction of a field clinic. This is its role with the CERFP.

CERFP provides a unique opportunity for servicemembers to train on two completely different missions while receiving realistic and critical training. While the National Guard always stands ready to answer any call to support our Nation and state, the CERFP also stands ready to answer a call to humanity.