Story by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta
7th Civil Support Command
ZAVENTEM, Belgium – As local radio announcers provided hourly updates on President Barack Obama’s visit to Belgium on March 26, Soldiers from the 7th Civil Support Command’s 773rd Civil Support Team trained for possible future international crises.
The 773rd CST Soldiers partnered with the Zaventem Fire Department during the fifth annual Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear training exercise, known as “CBRN Week,” March 24-28, 2014.
During five days of joint training, more than seventeen 773rd CST Soldiers and approximately a dozen local firefighters tested their joint CBRN response techniques in a variety of emergency response scenarios.
“My intention was to put different scenarios together, [to] test training with different departments to work together and manage a HAZMAT scenario,” said 2nd Lt. Toralf Deick, exercise observer controller and volunteer emergency responder with the Zaventem Fire Department and a Zaventem resident. “Good to figure out how good you are and what you need to improve.”
Deick planned and coordinated the different training sites based on his past experiences with the Zaventem Fire Department and from his full-time job as a firefighter with the local Vilvoorde Fire Department.
One of Deick’s ideas was a joint Zaventem Fire Department and 773rd CST team reacting to a possible radiological and chemical spill caused by a simulated multiple-vehicle accident involving a van carrying possibly hazardous material as well as simulated victims trapped in the wreckage.
The Soldiers’ and firefighters’ bulky protective suits and equipment turned the simple act of sample testing, monitoring, climbing a ladder or treating a possibly contaminated patient into an extremely difficult physical challenge.
“Training is going great,” Sgt. Maj. Stef Vandersmissen, firefighter, Zaventem FD and Zaventem native said. “[It is] interesting to see – my guys doing their normal duties in a different circumstance for them, the integration with the [773rd] CST is very good.”
“Every time we come up here it is a different type of training with a different type of scenario,” Cpl. Eric Song, survey team member, 773rd CST and Seattle, Wash., native said.
According to Song, the 773rd CST’s main function is to quarantine, assess, monitor and mitigate a potential CBRN incident that may affect the surrounding population.
“[The training] gives us different points of view on how to look at certain incidences,” Song said. “They’re very proficient. They’re first responders, so their priorities are [extraction and] saving lives.”
Also, during the second day of training in a field outside of town, the firefighters and the 773rd CST CBRN team worked together to decontaminate and triage possible survivors.
“That was unique,” Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Searcy, administrative noncommissioned officer, 773rd CST and Natchez, Miss. native said, “normally we only deal with our -- team.”
Mid-week the firefighters and 773rd CST attended a military congress workshop where they listened to instructional speeches and participated in discussions with leading CBRN experts from the Belgian military.
“This is one of my favorite annual training events that I look forward to, [every year],” Song said.
On the fourth day the 773rd CST Soldiers, with Zaventem firefighters as their instructors, cut open several recycled training vehicles. They used a hydraulic rescue tool, more commonly referred to as the “Jaws of life,” after the vehicles’ air bags deployed.
The closing ceremony on final day included the laying of a wreath by the 773rd CST Soldiers at a memorial for a fallen Zaventem Fire Department firefighter, who passed away in the line of duty.
“It is always good to work with different nations because we’re in foreign consequence management,” Army Staff Sgt. John Gribble, survey team NCO, 773rd CST, who lives in Grafenwoehr, Germany, said.