By Spc. Brad Mincey
South Carolina National Guard
LAKE MONTICELLO, S.C., (10/21/09) - If a disaster struck and you found yourself trapped on a rooftop, the thing you would most want to see headed your way is a Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (HART) in a South Carolina National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation, General Support Aviation Battalion (GSAB) trained with emergency responders from all over South Carolina here in September in preparation for any possible disasters.
During this training, they worked an overturned vehicle scenario in which the survivors were standing on the vehicle surrounded by water.
As the helicopter flew into the area, the crew chief guided the pilot over the area, where the survivor waited. The rescue swimmer in a black and yellow wet suit was lowered to the water, swimming over to the survivor.
After securing the survivor to the rope, he gave the signal and both of them were raised into the air. Dripping with water and hanging below the helicopter, the rescue swimmer signaled the crew chief when they were high enough to clear any obstacles or debris. The crew chief relayed this information to the pilot, who maneuvered to a safe area.
â€œWe are training for incidents were you canâ€™t get to the area by vehicle,â€ said Sgt. Brian Holder, crew chief for the 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment.
This cooperative training brings together multiple assets to perform a vital mission that neither team could do individually. The HART members get access to readily available aircraft and trained pilots.
â€œWhile weâ€™re not at war, were always training,â€ said Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Reynolds, an Instructor/Pilot with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation. â€œWe have a large aviation asset in the S.C. Guard. These assets are well taken care of and its (the UH-60 Blackhawk) performance exceeds anything the search and rescue team needs.â€
While the Guard has the aviation capabilities, the South Carolina Emergency Response Teams provide the personnel with emergency medical training, who can go out on the short-haul rope. That is why the two groups came together to create HART as a single-response asset.
â€œThey (the Guard) have a great rescue team, but no rescuer,â€ said Daniel McManus, the assistant state fire marshal. â€œWe are the ones who have the medical and rescue training and can go out of the helicopter.â€
Considering the types of rescue missions these teams are training for, both civilian and military need one another to be expedient and efficient.
Communication becomes a key factor. â€œOur crew chiefs are not trained to go down on the hoist,â€ said Maj. Charles Lewis, 1st Battalion, 59th Aviation Troop Command. â€œWeâ€™re using military assets to assist civilian authorities in moving individuals from a bad place to a good place.â€
â€œThe biggest difference between the training we normally do and what we are doing here is that now we have people beneath us,â€ said Holder. â€œWith us being part of the South Carolina HART, we are able to train for this type of event."
For several years, the South Carolina Emergency Response Task Force has been trying to get this relationship started. It began five years ago when North Carolinaâ€™s emergency responders began coordinating their program with the North Carolina National Guard. McManus said that it has taken two years of planning for the organizations to come together.
Since then, both groups have worked hard to make this happen. It has been very beneficial for both groups as they have received training that they otherwise may not have gotten. This makes each team stronger in their individual missions as well as any future missions they may perform together.
â€œLike the South Carolina National Guard, (our) team comes together from various points to one departure area when they are needed,â€ said McManus. â€œSince we began this training, weâ€™ve been able to give our guys the equipment and training they need.â€
Along with time in the pilot seat and handling a different type of rescue mission, one of the important tasks the Guard members worked on was communication. The sun beaming down on the water causes a lot of glare for the pilots, and often makes it difficult for them to see the person they are trying to rescue.
â€œAir crew coordination is paramount,â€ said Lewis. â€œCommunication between the crew chief and pilot is important. They are the eyes and ears of the pilots. They have to be able to paint a vivid picture of whatâ€™s happening under the aircraft.â€
â€œThe guys that started the HART program came up with hand and arm signals that we use while performing our mission,â€ said Holder.
These signals were fairly standard between both the civilian and military side, but there were a few differences between the two. After spending several hours in class, both sides were on the same page.
â€œWith equipment under you, you have a little bit of leeway,â€ said Holder. â€œBut with someone under you, not so much. Learning the hand signals and keeping up good communication is extremely important.â€
For the rescue swimmers, they have been able to play both survivor and saver during the scenario. â€œWe want that taste,â€ said McManus. â€œYou canâ€™t be the best rescuer possible without knowing what itâ€™s like to be the survivor.â€
Both teams will continue to train separately and together and look forward to working together if they are called into action. â€œThe feeling of the training was fantastic,â€ said Reynolds. â€œWe have developed a very good jump-off point with this training, because it was so solid.â€