34th CST trains with Navy, Chesapeake firefighters

Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard's Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team train with firefighters from the U.S. Navy and City of Chesapeake during an aircraft mishap exercise Nov. 5, 2014, at the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team train with firefighters from the U.S. Navy and City of Chesapeake during an aircraft mishap exercise Nov. 5, 2014, at the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, Va. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team trained with firefighters from the U.S. Navy and City of Chesapeake during an aircraft mishap exercise Nov. 5, 2014, at the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, Va. The exercise was designed to enhance coordination and familiarity between first responders in the event of an aircraft incident involving chemical or biological agents.

“Today we will test our ability to respond for a real world emergency,” said Maj. Michael Booker, commander of the 34th CST. “This simulation will give us the chance to work with local, state and federal organizations. Each of us practices on our own, so this is a great opportunity to work together in accomplishing the same goal of protecting citizens.”

The 34th CST can identify chemical, biological, and radiological substances, assess current and projected consequences, advise an incident commander on response measures, and assist with requests for additional state support.

In the scenario, there is a helicopter mishap on the landing field, and there are indications that some type of chemical may have been released.

“We will conduct sampling missions in order to tell the incident commander and first responders what they are dealing with and how it can be mitigated,” Booker explained.

At the star of the exercise, firefighters first dealt with extinguishing the flames, then began to assess casualties who showed signs of injury associated with exposure to a chemical hazard. Once the flames were contained and casualties stabilized, Soldiers and Airmen from the 34th CST established a safe zone perimeter and began to conducting sampling in order to identify the possible substances at the site.

“We have the experts here from the Virginia National Guard, so we can figure out what we are dealing with and what to do in order to protect the local populace,” said Capt. Kit Chope, commander of Naval Air Station Oceana.

The 34th CST is one of 57 such units in the country and is equipped with a wide range of the latest military and commercial equipment CBRN equipment. It is made up of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel who bring a wide range of military skills as well as career experience from the civilian sector. The unit is divided into six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical/analytical and survey.

Each team member completes between 500 and 900 hours of specialized training during their first year of assignment and continues advanced training throughout their tenure with multiple agencies including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the National Fire Academy, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The team’s primary response area includes a 300-mile radius from its home station at Fort Pickett and stretches as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as South Carolina. They maintain personnel on standby at all times, can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification and the main body deploys within three hours.

A unit’s assigned transportation includes a command vehicle, operations trailer, a communications vehicle called the unified command suite which provides a broad spectrum of secure communications capabilities, an analytical laboratory system vehicle containing a full suite of analysis equipment to support the complete characterization of an unknown hazard and several general purpose vehicles. The CST normally deploys using its assigned vehicles, but it can be airlifted as required.

“This is a win-win for so many folks at the local, commonwealth and federal level,” Chope said. “Today is an opportunity to build on relationships and sharpen our skills, and we learn how to better communicate with each other. We have an obligation to the population to keep them safe and if things go wrong, we need to be ready.”