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Four Fort Benning firefighters joined together with firefighters from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Knox, Kentucky, Aug. 3-5 to attend a joint training exercise in North Vernon, Indiana.
Vibrant Response 2014 was held at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, and was a major field training exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North.
Approximately 5,000 service members and civilians from the military and other federal and state agencies throughout the country trained to respond to a catastrophic domestic incident. As a component of U.S. Northern Command, Army North coordinates timely federal military response to disasters in the homeland to help the American people in a time of need.
The firefighters were part of a 15-person Installation Management Command Atlantic Region team that conducted several different types of training while in Indiana, including water rescue, structural collapse, mass casualty, urban search and rescue and heavy rescue.
"The initiative originally started with the Fort Knox Fire Department, which has been going to this training for about the last four years," said William Pagels, Fort Benning district fire chief. "They found the training to be extremely valuable and pushed it out to several other IMCOM Atlantic Region installations.
The urban training center was converted into a disaster area, with a simulated scenario involving the detonation of a thermonuclear device in a small city, causing mass collapse and contamination hazards.
The IMCOM team's three days of exercises began on Day 1 with a simulated structural collapse, where the team worked with a team of firefighters from the Michigan National Guard.
"Luckily, it being fire department to fire department, we were pretty much all on the same sheet of music," Pagels said.
On Day 2, the team conducted water rescue operations in a simulated flood environment. In this scenario, victims were trapped in attics, requiring the team to create openings in roofs and extract the victims.
Day 2 also saw the team doing door-to-door search and rescue operations in a simulated trailer park and transporting those rescued to a mass decontamination area.
On Day 3, the team split up, with half working a heavy rescue operation involving a train derailment and the other half conducting high-rise search and rescue operations.
All in all, Pagels said he and the rest of the IMCOM team were impressed with the training offered during Vibrant Response.
"The training props were fabulous - some of the best I've seen in 25 years of service," he said. "They definitely put in a great deal of time, money and effort."
The exercise went so well, in fact, that Pagels said there is a desire to create a more permanent partnership between the various IMCOM Atlantic fire departments.
"We found it all very valuable, not just in the training, but in that this is the first time any of us have deployed with multiple installations coming together for a single deployment of a strike team," he said. "Ideally, one of the things that several of the fire chiefs are considering is trying to sell the idea of creating an IMCOM regional response force. No one single installation can support deploying a 20- or 30-man team, but if each IMCOM regional team could support two to five people to form a team, would we work together? I think the resounding answer from this exercise was yes.
"I think it's a great idea that we do that. It would be an asset. We have a lot of exceptionally well-trained and well-resourced fire departments in IMCOM, so should we push forward to help citizens or Soldiers for an on-post or off-post mission, I think it would be a valuable response team."