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NEWS | Feb. 8, 2017

New York National Guard Civil Support Team Training State Police in confined area operations

By Master Sgt. Raymond Drumsta New York National Guard

WATERVLIET, N.Y. – Members of the New York National Guard's 2nd Civil Support Team shared their expertise in working in tight, cramped places with New York State Police investigators during several days of training that kicked off Jan. 31 at the Army's Watervliet Arsenal.

Over several days in a classroom and one of the arsenal's factory buildings, CST troops trained New York State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team (CCSERT) members how to safely enter confined spaces.

The 2nd CST, which is based at Stratton Air National Guard Base, is trained to identify chemical, biological, and radiological agents and advise first-responders on how to deal with these materials.

"We work in concert with each other," said Capt. Christopher Giebel, the team operations officer. "Their job is to get the evidence, our job is to get the samples."

The team is also trained to perform this mission in all kinds of areas, including confined spaces such as grain silos, sewer systems, tunnels, old mine shafts and collapsed buildings, team members explained.

The New York State troopers asked for training in confined area missions because of an incident which occurred in August 2016, said Technical Sgt. Robert Grace, the New York State Police CCSERT coordinator.

CCSERT members were called upon to investigate a methamphetamine lab that was discovered in a long sewer tunnel that ran under a Walmart parking lot in Amherst, New York, Grace recalled. Confined Space Awareness is part of their Mission Essential Task List, he said, and meth labs are an explosive, fire and contamination hazard.

"Because of that lab, I wanted to make sure all the teams got some training in Confined Space Awareness," Grace said. "For some of our members, it's the first time doing any type of rope-rescue."

Most of that training took place in a vertical shaft at the Arsenal, and involved teaching the CCSERT members how to set up and use a tripod and complex system of ropes and pulleys to enter a confined space.

The 200-year old Watervliet Arsenal is the Army's only plant that produces cannons, mortars, and tank guns.

To simulate a confined space, the CST and CCSERT members used a vertical shaft and steel platforms that are built into it. The CST troops and CCSERT members assembled the tripod and rope system over an opening in the top platform, then the CCSERT members donned safety harnesses and took turns being lowered and raised in and out of the simulated confined space.

The rope system is integral to confined-space rescues, said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Willit, the 2nd CST reconnaissance NCO, and a Voorheesville, New York, resident.

It gives rescuers what's known as a "mechanical advantage" or leverage, he explained.

Every turn of the rope thru a pulley multiples that leverage, reducing the amount of effort needed to pull weight, Willit said. Without the rope system, confined space rescues would be "almost impossible," he stressed.

Spc. Joshua Slish, a 2nd CST member and resident of Colonie, New York, said he had fun conducting the training with the CCSERT members.

"This is something I enjoy, very hands on," he said. "It gets you out of the classroom."

Sharing skills and techniques also builds interoperability and understanding between agencies, Willit and Slish said. Among the agencies, for example, there are many different standard operating procedures for confined-space search-and-rescue, Willit explained.

"None of them are wrong, they're just a different way of accomplishing the mission," he said. "It's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page. At the end of the day, we all want to accomplish the mission."

In the coming weeks, the 2nd CST will be training about a half-dozen groups of CCSERT members in the Syracuse and Buffalo areas, Giebel said.

"It promotes continuity with the two agencies," Giebel said. "It's a good relationship-builder."