NEWS | Aug. 11, 2016

Colorado National Guard emergency responders take second in the nation

By Staff Sgt. Bobbie Reynolds Colorado National Guard

CAMP RILEA, Ore. – Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Colorado National Guard, take second in the nation for emergency response time during an exercise evaluation here, Aug. 5, 2016. 

The EXEVAL is a three-phase exercise that progressively becomes more challenging over the course of a week. Each phase, designated as "crawl, walk and run," tests the response time and capabilities of the National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP), in preparation for a real-world domestic emergency.  

The "crawl" phase is the first part of the week-long exercise, during which Soldiers and Airmen become familiar with the area, practice setting up equipment, and process a small number of volunteer casualties. EXEVAL evaluators come at the beginning of the exercise to help CERFP teams make necessary changes before evaluation day. This gives the CERFP a chance to get acquainted with their roles, the evaluators, and the area.  

The second part of the exercise is the "walk" phase. At this point, all members of a CERFP move faster and more smoothly.  

There are six components of a CERFP. One of them is the 50-man Search and Extraction team. 

"S&E personnel enter into rubble areas in a hazardous material environment to extract people," said Lt. Col. Christopher S. McKee, battalion commander, 147th Brigade Support Battalion. The S&E team escorts victims and non-ambulatory personnel to the cold zone (non-hazardous area) for the decontamination process. 

A 75-man decontamination team is another component of a CERFP, used to spray down victims, in an effort to clean off any toxic chemicals to which they may have been exposed.

"The decontamination team can run three lanes of people and process up to 225 casualties per hour," said McKee. 

When decontamination is complete, the casualties are stabilized by medical personnel until they can be evacuated and follow-on medical care occurs, said McKee. There are 45 medical team members of a CERFP. 

The Fatality Search and Recovery Team is another important asset to the emergency response team. They are trained to properly identify bodies recovered through the rubble and provide families a chance to find peace with deceased loved ones after a catastrophic event occurs. 

 "The FSRT is comprised of eleven personnel, who are trained in mortuary affairs, who come in and recover the deceased," said McKee. "In a catastrophe, they provide a much needed service by helping victims find closure." 

McKee said beyond the footprint (area that stretches from decontamination to medical and surrounding buffer zone), a 16-man command and control cell monitors all activities. They manage resources and report the progress of the CERFP to the Incident Commander.  

 "We're designed to bridge the gap when first responders are quickly overcome with a high number of casualties," said McKee. 

Between the time the life-threatening event takes place and when the dust settles, a lot needs to be done to save and preserve lives. That is the reason that EXEVALs are important.  

On the fifth day, the "run" phase, the CERFP will either be validated for its efforts and determined fit for duty, or they will not. The state decides based off of EXEVAL results.  

McKee said the CERFP team is evaluated inside a two hour, thirty minute window of time. The time starts when the IC shakes hands with the CERFP team members and ends when they are ready to process a casualty. Not only did Colorado's CERFP team meet the standards, they exceeded them with a final time just shy of 1 hour, 30 minutes. 

Sgt. 1st Class Joe B. Ziser, command and control operations non-commissioned officer in charge of the Colorado National Guard CERFP team, said the CONG team came in second in the nation for emergency response time at 1 hour, 11 minutes, the second best time in the history of CERFP.  

Amidst the pile of rubble, the dust and debris in a real-world situation, emergency response time can make the difference between life and death. 

First responders and the National Guard are called on for a great mission but not just because they're military or first responders, but because it's what they believe in, it's what they do, explained Brian Callahan, an Army contractor, evaluator, and former CERFP responder. 

"It's a great mission that we pray we never have to do," said Callahan. "We train our troops to be prepared in case they ever have to perform the mission and if they do, it's simply Americans helping Americans."