On the Scene:  Lt. Col. Kevin Nuccitelli, commander of the 85th CST explains why training scenarios like the one just completed on a commercial airliner in Wendover, Utah is important for his airmen and soldiers as well as for local emergency responders.

 

 

 

 

Rapid Reaction: 85th Civil Support Team Trains with Local Emergency Responders in Utah's West Desert

 

Written by Shad West

Published May 22, 2007

 

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Sgt. Samuel Voss checks his “Nack” Kit before suiting up to go down range.

Photo by Shad West

Sgt. Samuel Voss checks his “Nack” Kit before suiting up to go down range.

WENDOVER, Utah — A 737 chartered commercial airliner left the airport here only to return for an emergency landing a short time later when a number of passengers became ill.  Six of the passengers complained of nausea, blurred vision and runny noses.

 

All of these symptoms led local fire department officials to suspect the passengers were exposed to harmful chemicals. The passengers were evacuated from the aircraft, and those with symptoms were taken to a local hospital for observation and treatment.  One passenger broke from the group and slipped away, leading law enforcement officers to believe the event may have been an act of terrorism.

 

Unable to assess the situation on the aircraft, local officials secured the aircraft and called the Utah National Guard’s rapid-response unit, the 85th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team

 

This scenario capped off a week of training for the Utah National Guard’s 85th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team and local emergency responders in Utah’s West Desert during a joint training exercise at the Wendover airport.

 

The week of training events was coordinated through the Joint Operational Testing and Training Division of Dugway Proving Grounds and gave the team its first opportunity to train on a commercial aircraft.

 

 Maj. Larry Carpenter sets up a medical monitoring station outside the DECON Line.

Photo by Shad West

 Maj. Larry Carpenter sets up a medical monitoring station outside the DECON Line.

“We’ve run scenarios on military aircraft, but this is a unique opportunity for our team to train on civilian aircraft,” Lt. Col. Kevin Nuccitelli, commander of the 85th CST said. “In today’s environment this is a very realistic scenario.”

 

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Parker emplaces a satellite dish for communication capabilities.

Photo by Shad West

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Parker emplaces a satellite dish for communication capabilities.

Once the CST arrived at the Wendover airport, the on-scene commander briefed them with the latest intelligence and team members immediately set up communication equipment and a decontamination line. Other team members set up air-monitoring equipment based on current wind and weather conditions. The medical officer set up his work area.  In less than 35 minutes, the tarmac upwind from the aircraft had been turned into a temporary operating base complete with a command post, tactical operations control center and analytical laboratory.  

 

Using sophisticated equipment and a mobile analytical laboratory, team members took solid, liquid or air samples and tested them for chemical or biological substances down to parts per billion. They also had the capability to do rapid DNA sampling and chemical analysis to identify potential toxic substances on the scene—resources that local responders didn’t have.

 

Members of the Joint Operational Testing and Training team used a common household cleaner to simulate a nerve agent.  The chemical composition of the cleaner would actually give the CST advance team a hit on their monitoring equipment, adding to the realism of the exercise.

 

“For our joint operational training we don’t have canned exercises,” said Jaromy Jessop, Training Coordinator for CST/WMD Tactical Operations, Jacobs Dugway Team. “This is based on discovery learning.  It is all designed to let the team make their mistakes here rather than during a real scenario.”

 

Using an operational commercial airliner also added to the realism.  The scenario, taken from recent headlines, included a water bottle filled with the chemical, wax paraffin and water which was found in an abandoned backpack.  At the rear of the aircraft in a galley, the chemical was poured into a pan to simulate the chemical spill. Another half-empty bottle sat in the pan as well.

 

The CST advance team donned full Level A suits including Self Contained Breathing Apparatus and carried various monitors and sampling equipment onto the aircraft. Navigating through the tight aisles the team took swipe samples, air samples and photographs, gathering as much information as they could to identify the source and type of contamination. 

 

Staff Sgt. Kent Duke and Sgt. Thomas LUX assemble a decontamination shower along the DECON Line.

Photo by Shad West

 Staff Sgt. Kent Duke and Sgt. Thomas LUX assemble a decontamination shower along the DECON Line.

Sitting in a jump seat at the front of the jet was Extra Airways Wendover Station Manager Tammie Brown. Brown helped coordinate the use of the airplane which had flown in from Albuquerque, N.M., earlier that evening and was due to fly out again in the morning.

 

“This is great training,” Brown said. “It benefits the community, the airline and the incident team. We are glad to lend our aircraft for this realistic training.”

 

“Since 9-11, this is a reality we all live with and it is nerve-racking. I’ve seen people detained by security because they have had ammonia on their person,” Brown added. “This is a very real scenario, and I appreciate the opportunity to be here and see the team do their job. As long as we have an available aircraft, we would love to continue this type of training.”

 

Within 30 minutes of the sample’s arrival at the mobile laboratory sitting upwind of the aircraft, the CST team was able to identify the chemical and brief the incident commander, local hospital and other officials on how to treat the passengers and clean up and dispose of the chemical. Within hours of notification, what could have been a more tragic situation was successfully brought to a manageable level for local authorities, the airline and the Guard’s CST team.

 

However, for the 85th the training scenarios like this are more than just a chance for team members to stay proficient with the variety of tools at their disposal, it is also a chance to meet local civil authorities and assess what they are capable of.

 

“If we are meeting a fire or police chief for the first time during a real-world incident, then as commander of the Civil Support Team I haven’t done my job,” Nuccitelli said.

 

“We have a 22-member team that is a tight-knit group.  We get out on a scenario and we trust each other with our lives,” added Nuccitelli. “This scenario was one that would have overwhelmed local responders. We need them to trust us the way we trust our team members. Exercises like this help us build on that trust.”

 

A member of the advance team enters the 737 commercial airliner to investigate the chemical contamination.

Photo by Shad West

A member of the advance team enters the 737 commercial airliner to investigate the chemical contamination.