CENTENNIAL, Colo. - The Colorado National Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package is a joint Army National Guard and Air National Guard team that provides a punch in the face of disaster.
The team is as unique as the equipment members carry, which makes them a valuable asset to first responders, specifically during mass-casualty incidents – natural or man-made.
The teams provide immediate CBRN incident response capabilities to assist civil authorities, including tasks such as incident site search, casualty extraction, mass decontamination, medical triage, and the recovery of fatalities. All of these tasks require extensive initial and refresher training.
"Our job is to go into the Hot Zone and pull out casualties," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Scot Snyder, full- time Non-commissioned Officer in charge, Colorado CERFP.
The CERFP is based at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, and is housed adjacent to the 8th Civil Support Team.
Although these teams are similar and often mistaken for one another there is a significant difference.
"There is a difference between CST and CERFP although both are joint (Air-Army) teams," Snyder said. "The CST focuses on identification and advice, whereas the CERFP is a follow-on mass-casualty support element."
Colorado's 8th CST is a technical force of 22 full-time personnel directly connected to the civilian incident command structure. They are always on-call for requests to support local emergency management teams with the identification of hazardous materials.
CONG CERFP has five operational elements staffed as an additional duty by personnel with other primary positions in local National Guard units.
"If there are causalities, and it's a big enough incident that the local emergency management team needs assistance with decontamination or casualty recovery, then we [CERFP] get involved," Snyder said. "Our 203-person team would come in behind the CST. When we walk in, it's time to save lives."
Many civilian rescue agencies have personnel within their teams who train for additional duties and carry additional equipment to respond to hazardous incidents. The CERFP does as well and is made up of five elements of specialists.
These elements include command and control, search and extraction, and mass decontamination teams, staffed primarily by the Army National Guard. The Air National Guard staffs medical triage and fatalities search and recovery teams.
"We have a really large tool set to bring to the fight," U.S. Army 1st Lt. Adam Wehrle, CERFP operations officer, said. "These tools are a vital resource available for assisting first responders."
The CERFP team trains and integrates with first responders to prepare for disaster response.
"We have a large domestic operations exercise, evaluated combined training exercise, and an exercise evaluation coming up," Wehrle said. "We are moving forward in a very aggressive fashion to accomplish these exercises. Along the way, important relationships are built."
"We work with organizations such as West Metro Fire Rescue, North Metro Fire Rescue, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and state emergency management, anyone in the region really," Snyder said. "There really isn't an organization too big or too small; it all depends on the size of the event."
"The reality is that firefighters and police need to know that we are available," Wehrle said. "The chief might know but not the rest of the firemen. So, through the exercises, you get more depth of relationship and understanding."
The CERFP has three liaison officers whose primary function is to train their element. Once an exercise has been locked in, LNOs will work out specific details with relevant community partners.
During this fiscal year, they will integrate with the Colorado Army National Guard's 147th Brigade Support Battalion in Fort Collins, Colorado, augmented by the 3650th Maintenance Company from Longmont, Colorado.
The liaison in charge of training the decontamination team is U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Graff. He ensures that all of his members are qualified per National Guard Bureau requirements.
"We integrate with hospitals and train with them on cleaning [chemicals off of] people including self-decontamination and rescue personnel," Graff said. "The DECON team, as a force-multiplier, can process 40 people per hour, operate for 12 hours, and also train to decontaminate equipment and animals."
Before DECON can do their job, the search and extraction team must do theirs.
"The search and extraction component has about 50 people," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Owens, search and extraction LNO. "Those individuals qualify on progressing stages of search and extraction training and then additional qualifications to include CPR and basic hazardous material handling and operations."
The CERFP's equipment must function properly, which is the responsibility of U.S. Army Spc. Brian Roche, CERFP maintenance NCO. Roche maintains the CERFP's equipment, including both military and civilian vehicles, chemical detection equipment, etc.
"I do a lot of training with the North Metro teams and also the CST on equipment familiarization, proper use, and calibration," Roche said.
Each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency regions has at least one National Guard CERFP. At least one CST exists in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.
During the CERFP's 2016 evaluation, Colorado members integrated a digital common operating picture, which included mapping quadrants, team movement, casualty location, and other vital information.
"In the past, CERFP teams used white boards to track mission information," Snyder said. "We were the first to use the real-time information method."
Teams nationwide have adopted this new standard although white boards are still used as a backup.
"It's important that first responders know that there is a military element in their region or state which has the skillset and can provide the support they need, from medical to extraction to treatment to command and control," Snyder said. "Soldiers and Airmen serving in the CERFP get a lot of satisfaction from doing this kind of mission."