Soldiers, emergency responders train together on rescue operations

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 13, 2013 

A car with 5,000 pounds of concrete on its roof and wedged against a concrete drainage cover was part of a joint rescue exercise Thursday with Fort Benning personnel and the Columbus Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services.

About 200 to 250 personnel, including soldiers from the 11th Engineer Battalion and civilian firefighters from Columbus and Fort Benning, converged on the Hershey Borrow Pit in Harmony Church to exchange ideas on dealing with a collapsed structure with victims inside a crumbled car. The training offers military personnel a chance to hone their skills in the event an emergency may require federal and local authorities to work together.

"This is a vital opportunity to hone in our skills associated with reacting to this type of environment," said 1st Lt. Christopher Gibbs of the 11th Engineer Battalion. "Without this training opportunity, we are in the dark."

Columbus Fire Marshal Ricky Shores said three firefighters trained in search and rescue were at the exercise to offer technical advice and hopefully learn some capabilities the U.S. Army may use to assist responders in a local incident.

"Certainly, state and local and federal assets may have to come to bear to bring an incident under control," Shores said. "It is important to us as local responders to be able to know the capabilities of our soldiers here at Fort Benning if they have to assist us in the event of an emergency."

To complete the exercise, soldiers were dressed in chemical suits and donned gas masks as part of a Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Response Force.

In the rescue scenario, Gibbs said two teams were working in the area. One team focuses on clearing a path to the rescue area while a second team handles the search and rescue to extract victims.

Firefighters and Army engineers used wooden blocks and metal jacks to keep a chunk of concrete

from crushing the car before a victim is freed.

"First and foremost is to make sure that it is stabilized," Gibbs said. "Next is allowing access inside the vehicle."

Shores said the Columbus department has been on several rescue training scenarios throughout the state, but noted responders could run in to a real-life situation like the one at Fort Benning.

"The scenario they have set up today is very complex," Shores said. "Certainly, you could run into a real-life situation that you could have to use some skills you learn today."

A goal for the local firefighters is to understand the Army's capabilities and share information on local assets.

"We have been doing it a little bit longer, so there may be some areas where we are a little more refined," Shores said. "But what we have to understand is obviously the U.S. military can bring in a lot more heavy assets to be able to handle a situation local responders wouldn't be able to come by. It would be wise for us to understand what exactly these federal assets can provide."

Shores was referring to a huge bulldozer used to clear a path for responders and other heavy equipment.

Lessons learned at the training exercise will help engineers in August when they deploy to Camp Atterbury in Indiana.

"We want Fort Benning to know this is the right force, the right training and right expertise at the right time," Gibbs said.

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