134 ARW Emergency Management Conduct Haz-Mat Response Exercise in Hawaii

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kendra M. Owenby
  • 134 ARW Public Affairs
Several members of the 134 ARW Civil Engineer Emergency Management Flight conducted a Hazardous Material Response Exercise here while completing their required annual Deployed Field Training (DFT) on Aug 13.

Suiting up in highly visible lime green personal protective equipment referred to as "Level A" suits the airmen rivaled that of what could be seen on any given episode of NCIS, 24 or Homeland. The scenario?...individuals in the mailroom at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPH-H) discovered a suspicious white powder leaking from an envelope that was processed in the outgoing mail. The clock began ticking...

Installation Emergency Managers Chief Master Sgt. Charlie Pierson, 151 ARW, Utah Air National Guard, and Master Sgt. Chris King, 134 ARW, Tennessee Air National Guard, sat in as a point of contact for the team in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the exercise. Standing in as Incident Commanders were Master Sgt. Matthew Perkinson and Tech. Sgt. Tim Vellejo, both members of the 134 CES Fire Department.

Upon notification of the suspicious package acting Operations Chief Tech. Sgt. Steven Breeden started readying the rest of the team. He briefed to the group, "Right now, all we need to know is what that white powder is, then we'll know where to go from there".

Two members of the Initial Reconnaissance Team, Staff Sgt. Janel Miller and Senior Airman Johnny Romines, suited up with help from their teammates. The Airmen must have assistance when donning the suits. It is imperative that they take care not to damage the lifesaving equipment or tire themselves out putting on the gear.

To ensure that there is a supply of breathable air each suit is equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus. The air tanks are good for approx. forty-five minutes under normal breathing habits but are dependent upon the individual's breathing. If intake is heavier than normal the tank could expire in as little as fifteen minutes. "I made a forty-five minute tank last over an hour once in Germany during one of these exercises" says Senior Airman Romines.

The hazardous material suits are thick and unforgiving for the wearer who is completely sealed inside. They must carry a knife in their interior pocket to cut themselves out if there is an issue with the oxygen and no one to assist quickly enough.

"The suits are an air-tight Tyvek type material that is impervious to chemical and biological agents." states Master Sgt. King. "They each weigh about 7-8 lbs and allow no air, liquid, gas or solid to enter from the outside." Medical monitoring is required while wearing these suits. The temperature inside is 20-30 degrees hotter than the ambient temperature and the humidity is at 100 percent.

The next step for the two green-suited Airmen was to grab their detection equipment and make their way to the table to examine the suspicious package awaiting them. They continually waved the GR135 Radiological Gamma Detector around through the air to detect gamma rays if they were present.

"Gamma is invisible, so you want to know immediately whether it's present or not" states Chief Master Sgt. Pierson. Gamma is an ionizing radiation that causes damage at a cellular level. It can cause radiation sickness and increasing incidences of cancer along with other health effects.

Another piece of colorful yellow equipment referred to as the "Biocapture" does just what it sounds like...it captures any biological traces in the air by continually pulling in surrounding air. The Airmen recorded the results and then made their way back to the "clean zone" for a brief with the others to share what they had found.

Tech. Sgt. Louis Cunningham and Airman First Class Brad Daugherty suited up and transported their Health Hazardous Assessment (HHA) testing package to the site of the suspicious envelope. Minimal physical contact is imperative during the testing.

"Neither suited airmen can come in contact with the others...there is a "dirty man" and a "clean man"" says Tech. Sgt. Breeden. They communicate back and forth via radio working together to inspect the suspicious package with equipment and testing using the HHA testing package. The package uses a buffer solution mixture to read and test for positive or negative biological agents followed by a process of containing and marking. They then use a twelve-step testing process to determine the exact agent present.

Training is taken very seriously, but that doesn't stop the airmen from enjoying a light hearted moment during their duties by poking fun at each other about the funny gree¬n suits and bright orange boots. Staff Sgt. Miller jokingly states "You know how your mom said never to put a plastic bag over your head when you were a child?...well, we do it for a living!". However, the EM Airmen know that those suits and boots are their lifeline if things should go downhill and they get that urgent call to put their training and skills to work in a real-world incident.

The Airmen executed their duties successfully during the exercise and mitigated the issue. Their actions proved that their training was a success. It was all a staged training scenario at JBPH-H this time, but like the Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines learned here on Dec. 7, 1941, unfortunately they are not always staged events.

Emergency Management Airmen train for that real world incident they hope will never happen. The continuous attention to detail and rigorous training by these dedicated Airmen will ensure that they are confident and successful in saving human lives if they ever must don the funny green suit for real.