Army Reserve Soldiers partner with NYC first responders

By Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres | U.S. Army Reserve Command | July 18, 2018

NEW YORK — Army Reserve Soldiers demonstrated their lifesaving skills in the heart of Manhattan, New York, July 9-11, to optimize interoperability with civil authorities. 

Soldiers from the 486th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting Headquarters) and the 328th Combat Support Hospital teamed up with federal and local agencies to exercise key tasks and improve coordination during search and rescue and mass decontamination operations.

The Army Reserve has a key role to play in national response plans — augmenting first responders and speeding up recovery efforts in variety of environmental conditions.

“What makes us unique is that we can do search and rescue in a contaminated environment,” said Capt. Samuel Turner, commander of the response unit. “If there was an attack, the New York Fire Department would be the first to respond, but at the point they can no longer sustain operations they would request for federal assistance, and at that point we would come in to support.”

Conducting training missions like these in downtown Manhattan ensures the various local and federal elements are properly coordinated and ready.

“If we don’t build the relationships now, they won’t be ready on the day of the incident,” said New York Fire Department Lt. Paul Dulisse. “On a mid- to large-scale protracted incident, it’s realistic we’ll be working with multiple layers of government. We may initially work with the National Guard, but after 48 hours it’s realistic that these Army Reserve assets would be deployed, useful, and critical.” 

Turner said that his unit supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency by providing manpower, vehicles, and equipment to perform medical services as well as chemical, biological, and radiological cleanup; these skills would be in high demand in the event of a disaster or attack. The deployment of the Army Reserve would allow for relief in place of current operations allowing first responders time to regroup.

Turner said the unit is made up of several teams composed of both Army firefighters and medics. These Soldiers train together and would go into any situation as a team to provide the most lifesaving capabilities on-site as possible. This includes capabilities such as employing search and rescue tools like the Jaws of Life or a trained medical professional to begin lifesaving techniques as quickly as possible.

Staff Sgt. Damon Schersten, a U.S. Army Reserve Firefighter, said this training not only helps build skills, but establishes rapport between federal and civil authorities.

“This training gives us an idea of the equipment and terminology the New York Fire Department uses,” Schersten said. “Even if we didn’t respond together in New York City we may meet up in Albany, a region with less robust response elements, so already have a working relationship with them is invaluable to ensuring we meet the mission quickly.”

As with most preventative measures, the ideal situation means these soldiers may never be deployed, but these soldiers understand the necessity to be ready and this preparedness comes with a measure of sacrifice.

“We all want to do our jobs to the highest standard,” said Spc. Jason Delgado, 328th Combat Support Hospital. “At the same time, we hope we never have to do our jobs.” 

Delgado said that he’s been on the response team for nearly two years now and another group of Army Reserve Soldiers have been identified to take over the mission. 

“Being a part of this mission means spending a lot of days training throughout the year all over the country to stay ready.” Delgado said. “It’s a challenge spending around 100-days a year away from home, but having families and employers to support us so we can be ready makes a big difference.”