Soldiers from the Colorado National Guard’s 8th Civil Support Team scan for a radioactive substance within a package at Pepsi Center, Denver, Colo., July 25, 2011. Spc. Ryan Betz and Army Staff Sgt. Amadeus Weeks searched for suspicious packages and bombs along with other two-man teams from four other CSTs from surrounding states as part of a week-long exercise that brought together disaster preparedness teams from the Denver Fire Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Center for National Response. (Official U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Zachary T. Sheely, Colorado National Guard/RELEASED)
DENVER (7/28/11) – Airmen and Soldiers from the Colorado National Guard’s 8th Civil Support Team partnered with four other CSTs from surrounding states and other local and federal agencies to conduct multiple major training events for emergency preparedness. Also participating in the July 2011 exercise were the Denver Fire Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Center for National Response.
“This is a real great week of training simulating a lot of different ‘what ifs,’ and hopefully we never go down these roads,” said 8th CST Commander, Army Lt. Col. Kevin Kick, who has been running the team for more than two-and-a-half years, “but we’re really pushing the envelope of capabilities both from the civil support teams and the local response community.”
The exercise, dubbed Operation Mile High, kicked off July 25 with a scenario at Pepsi Center in which multiple packages with simulated chemical agents had been hidden throughout the arena. Several emergency response teams, broke into pairs of two, then extensively searched and detected the packages.
“You get a sense of adrenaline when you’re going into an unknown environment, even if it is just training,” said Army Sgt. Jesse Painter of the 8th. “You get a real peak high.”
Later on that day, emergency response teams descended on the Community College of Aurora, where they searched for evidence of hazardous substances that were used in the packages found at Pepsi Center.
The third and final scenario that day involved a mock emergency landing at Buckley Air Force Base. The scenario involved a toxic substance that had been dispersed in the cabin of a commercial aircraft, harming passenger. A CST team extracted casualties from the plane and detected and extracted the hazardous material onboard.
“I don’t ever think there’s going to be a case where we go into somewhere and can’t figure out what it is,” said Army Staff Sgt. Chris Gonzales of the 8th CST. “The whole entire team from our analytical section to our medical section is trained to deal with these types of scenarios.”
Three days later at Denver International Airport the exercise continued on. Emergency response teams went into a tunnel under one of the airport’s concourses and took samples from a simulated homemade explosives lab made by a group of terrorists. A couple hundred yards away, mock suspicious packages were examined for hazardous materials in one of the concourse passenger trains.
About a half mile from the tunnel teams, commercial aircraft passengers exposed to a simulated blister agent were decontaminated. Parked beside the 727 was a cargo plane where simulated dispersible devices had been activated and exposed a crewmember to a mustard agent. Members and DFD emergency responders decontaminated the crewmember as well as all the airline passengers.
When venturing into a hazardous environment, all teams must wear protective, seven-layer Hazmat suits made primarily of plastic. Members can remain in the suit for up to four hours depending on their air supply; and with temperatures hovering in the high 80s and low 90s, it can get toasty inside the responders’ suits.
“It gets pretty warm at times. It just depends on the situation,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kronebusch of the 9th CST out of Los Alamitos, Calif. “If it’s too hot outside, it’s not all that appealing, but you still have a job to do. No matter what, you’re still going into that suit.” Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Keltz, the newest member of the 8th CST who recently moved from Ohio to join the team, doesn’t mind jumping into the hot, bulky suits.
“I like it,” she said. “I’m one of those weird people who like being in the suit. I cannot sit at a desk and stare at a computer all day.” Large-scale exercises like the ones carried out by the various emergency response teams over the week are performed a couple of times a year, but smaller training opportunities are conducted monthly by the CSTs. When the opportunity arises for multiple CSTs to partner, such as the case for Operation Mile High, team members benefit from the different techniques and procedures employed by other states.
“We have different SOPs (standard operating procedures) and different ways of doing things, so a lot of times we’ll make a joint entry together and we’ll utilize the best of what we know from multiple teams,” said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Albano of the 72nd CST out of Lincoln, Neb.
DFD Assistant Fire Chief Mark Ruzycki couldn’t agree more.
“Combining the CSTs and Denver Fire together to come up with several entry groups at one time went really well,” he said. “The teams were communicating effectively. It’s really beneficial for everybody on Denver Fire to see the equipment and operations that the CSTs have and vice versa. The more we get together and do these types of exercises the better off we’ll be at an actual incident because we’ll be more comfortable working together.”
More than 120 people participated in the exercise, including CSTs from California, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.