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National Guard hazmat team at FLW prepares for March 18 evaluation
National Guard hazmat team at FLW prepares for March 18 evaluation

Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Moore of the 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood secures his air tank to his back during an examination for the Hazardous Materials Operations Plus course.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 13, 2009) — Members of the Missouri National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package completed part of their required training from March 8 to 10 in preparation for the program’s March 18 external evaluation in Columbia.

The Hazardous Materials Operations Plus course was put on by Texas Engineering Extension Service and is designed to teach students how to wear hazmat encapsulated suits and perform emergency decontamination, along with other hazmat related training, at the ProBoard Fire Service Professional Qualification Systems level.

“They are getting a national certification,” said instructor Elizabeth Morris. “They are certified to operate at the hazardous material operations level. They are doing a real good job.”

About 125 soldiers from the 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, the 117th Engineer Team of Monett, the 276th Engineer Company of Pierce City and the 3175th Chemical Company of St. Peters, who make up a portion of the CERFP team, received the training.

“They have to have this training to even do their mission at all, because they are going to be required to wear personal protective equipment and they have to have the training and knowledge to know what equipment to wear and when to wear it,” Morris said.

“This course gives us the ability to basically provide defensive capabilities if we go into a contaminated environment,” said Col. John Akers, CERFP commander and 35th Engineer Brigade deputy commander. “The intent of the training here is to get those soldiers who haven’t completed it and those who have completed before, but have maybe have done it for a different course, to be reintroduced back to the subject.”

“Many of us have four or five distance learning courses that we have to do. A lot of soldiers who haven’t completed those tasks are doing those at night.”

CERFP teams respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high yield explosive incident or other catastrophic events and assist local, state and federal agencies in conducting consequence management by providing capabilities to conduct personnel decontamination, emergency medical services and casualty search and extraction. They consist of both Army and Air National Guard assets working together in support of civilian emergency personnel for a strong, unified response team.

The 35th Engineer Brigade provides the command and control part of the team, while the 117th Asphalt Team and the 276th Engineer Company are the search and control component, and the 3175th Chemical Company provides the decontamination element.

An entire CERFP team is 186 personnel, Akers said, and it is required that 90 percent of them have to be trained in all requirements.

“That’s what we’re trying to get now,” Akers said. “We’re battling to get those numbers up so we can meet that 90 percent requirement.”

So far, Akers said he’s found the training to be beneficial to those who have never seen it, as well as those who have had something similar to it before.

“I took it about three years ago, but they’ve added some stuff here,” he said. “The emergency response guide book is really helpful to go through.”

The two-and-a-half-day course includes a day of classroom instruction, followed by a hands-on exam where students must properly put on an Environmental Protection Agency level B suit and do emergency decontamination on a classmate.

“Our instructors are A-class,” said Sgt. Ryan Waters of the 117th Engineer Team after his hands-on exam. “They walked us through everything yesterday and set us up for success today. I can’t say enough of how good our instructors and the quality of learning that we’re doing right now.”

Sgt. Joseph Matney of the 117th Engineer Team said teamwork during the external examination will be key, especially in the search and extraction team, because the air tanks they are training with only run for about 15 minutes under working conditions.

“I figured they’d be longer,” Matney said. “Under normal working conditions, you’d be in a whole for over an hour, so we’re going to be rotating quite a bit. Everybody is going to get a chance to actually do their duty and do their job. It’s not going to be a one-person crew. Everybody is going to have to work as a team.”

Despite having never trained together as one big team, Matney has confidence that the CERFP will have no trouble passing.

“We’ve got a great group and I really think they are going to pull together and everything is going to fall into place,” he said. “Everybody is very knowledgeable.”

As part of the 35th Engineer Brigade’s command and control element, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Moore hopes this is instruction he’ll never need to use, but realizes in a terrorism-type of event that it’s information he may well need.

“It’s important training for all to receive involved in the CERFP training,” Moore said. “I’m new to this CERFP team, so this is my first time going through the Hazmat course, so I’ve learned a lot.”

“Hopefully the command and control element will be more involved with the administrative and operations portion of the external evaluation. But if needed, we do have these skills available if the external-evaluation requires us to don our gear.”

The course concludes with a 50-point, multiple-choice written exam.

“For all the folks here, it’s a tough test,” Akers said. “I would anticipate that probably 25 or 30 percent will fail the first time. Then, hopefully, they’ll get retested and pass.”

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