Guardsmen train with civilian counterparts for disaster preparedness

  • Published
  • 120th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
More than 50 Airmen from the Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing attended training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, Feb. 12-18.

The group, comprised mainly of members of the 120th Medical Group and augmented by Airmen from the unit’s fire department, civil engineering, and public affairs, assembled at the unit’s small air terminal on Sunday and traveled aboard one of the unit’s C-130 Hercules aircraft to the training.

“The training provides a joint training opportunity to integrate with our local hospital, emergency department, emergency medical services, public health, fire department and public affairs counterparts,” said Maj. William Thompson, medical group administrator. “Joint, integrated planning, preparedness, mitigation, response, recovery, training and exercises are requirements for Guard medical units in accordance with Department of Defense and Air Force instructions.”

Upon arrival at the CDP, the Airmen were divided into three groups specific to each member’s specialty and integrated with civilian students from various public health and healthcare organizations for the five days of training.

“Coming to the CPD allows us to accomplish our annual medical readiness training and exercise requirements and complete some knowledge components of our Air Force specialty code,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the courses: Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents, Hospital Emergency Response Training for Mass Casualty Incidents, and Emergency Medical Operations for CBRNE Incidents, were provided to the unit at no cost to the unit by FEMA.

Healthcare Leadership for Mass Casualty Incidents, according to the FEMA CDP website, addresses disaster preparedness at the facility and system level to prepare healthcare leaders for any incident that results in multiple casualties, whether it is the result of a natural disaster; an accidental or intentional release of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosives hazard; or a disease outbreak that results in an epidemic or pandemic. The course focuses on preparing healthcare leaders to make critical decisions in all-hazards disaster emergency preparedness activities.

“Bringing in a team of military and mixing it in with civilians we were learning about each other at first, and as the week was going into the exercise we were integrating well with one another and we were learning from each other,” said Lt. Col. Laurie A Noel, a nurse with the 120th medical group.

The Emergency Medical Operations for CBRNE Incidents course prepares responders to effectively respond to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive or mass casualty incident, according to the FEMA CDP website.

“It better prepares us in case of a natural disaster or emergency at our state level,” said Airman 1st Class Kameron L. Mims, an aerospace medical technician. “In case we are ever activated we have the capability and the knowledge to handle that situation.”

According to the FEMA CDP website the Hospital Emergency Response Training for Mass Casualty Incidents course addresses healthcare response at the operations level for the facility and its personnel and prepares healthcare responders to utilize the hospital incident command system. The healthcare responders determine and use appropriate personal protective equipment and conduct triage followed by decontamination of ambulatory and non-ambulatory patients as members of a hospital emergency response team.

“We had the opportunity to learn the decontamination process of hospital emergency rooms in case of a terrorist event, chemical attack, chemical spill, or anything of the sort,” Mimms said. “Ultimately, what we learned to do was decontaminate patients as the first line of defense for the hospital."

Bowen Trystianson, a public health nurse for Cascade City-County Health Department, said he had never had the opportunity to work alongside Guard members in the past and was excited to do so.

“I liked the autonomous, self-directedness of those Guard members. They were just capable, absolutely capable, and that was great,” Trystianson said.

The Integrated Capstone Event on Friday provided the opportunity for the students from the three courses to work together in a culminating, all-hazard, mass casualty incident training exercise. According to the FEMA CDP website, the ICE promotes interdisciplinary response where first responders and first receivers are challenged to conduct operations within the incident command system, with students filling various roles based on their experience and course objectives.

“The training down here was absolutely invaluable and this facility is amazing and what they are able to do is amazing,” Trystianson said. “Because the Guard was here and we had so many other people here we made a lot of connections that I would never have otherwise known, so we have great relationships starting to build.”

Trystianson says he hopes to continue a relationship with the Guard when he returns to Montana.

“I’m here with two other people from the public health department and we are thinking about doing some table top discussions and there is a day to do simulations down the road, but we absolutely want to get the Guard involved in that and keep them involved,” Trystianson said.

“The experience has been so worthwhile,” said Erin Merchant, preparedness and communication officer with the Cascade City-County Public Health Department. “The biggest reason is for that networking opportunity."

Merchant said that although we could learn to work together during a real-life scenario, having the opportunity to train together and have discussions prior to an emergency situation is invaluable.

“Cascade County residents can rest assured that they have so many first responders, hospital folk, public health and the military invested in keeping them safe,” Merchant said.

On Saturday, the Airmen boarded a Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft for their return flight to Great Falls.

“I wish I could fly back to Montana with the Guard,” Trystianson said. “I would sign a waiver if I could.”