WICONISCO, Pa - Soldiers with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade joined civilian first responders from Dauphin and Schuylkill counties for a helicopter familiarization and emergency response drill here Saturday.
The training was conducted to instruct first responders on special considerations during an aviation accident.
"The training is to familiarize those civilian emergency responders with the helicopters we use in the military and broader aviation community," said 1st Lt. Travis Mueller, spokesman for the 28th ECAB. "Our Soldiers, our people, are our most treasured resource in the 28th ECAB and we go to great lengths to make sure they are safe doing their job. However, if our Soldiers are ever involved in an aviation accident we want to ensure that they would be under the best care possible and that first responders know how to handle the unique nature of those accidents."
First responders were present from Wiconisco Fire Company No. 1, Lykens Liberty Hose Company No. 2, Williamstown EMS, Wiconisco Township Police and Pennsylvania State Police.
A CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, operated by Soldiers with the 28th ECAB, took off from Fort Indiantown Gap in the morning and parked at the Wiconisco Fire Company. They were joined by helicopters and flight crews from the Pennsylvania State Police, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Geisinger Health System.
The flight crews briefed the first responders on aircraft orientation, hazard identification, safety considerations, removing injured flight crew members from the aircraft and emergency fuel and battery shut off procedures.
After the briefing portion of the event, the local first responders participated in a helicopter disaster drill. Another flight crew operating a CH-47, from the 28th ECAB’s 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, landed on a field east of the fire company and simulated a crash scene and major injuries. Local first responders then rushed to the scene and performed triage and emergency medical care on the mock victims.
"We were happy to have our air crews involved in this training," said Lt. Col. Michael Girvin, commander of the 2-104th GSAB. "If we ever run in to any emergencies in this area, those civilian emergency personnel could be the ones responding to the scene. This training involves ensuring emergency crews know how to care for air crews in a downed aircraft."
The event was originally planned to occur in the fall of 2017 but was rescheduled so 28th ECAB Soldiers could participate in hurricane relief efforts in the southern United States.
"Aside from the training, we wanted to build and foster relationships with the civilian agencies here today. We are all partners in assisting and protecting our community," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joe Sandbakken, safety officer for the 28th ECAB. "The civilian responders here are experts at what they do and, after today’s training, we have no doubt that if anything were to happen to us that we’d be under top-notch care."
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Danielle Watkins, safety officer for the 628th Aviation Support Battalion, worked with Ron Pinchorski, Wiconisco Fire Chief, along with other Soldiers and community members, for over a year to coordinate the event. Coordination included identifying landing and parking areas for the participating aircraft, invitations to other emergency agencies and finding an area to conduct the simulated disaster scene. Planning for the event included coordination with the county dispatch service to have them participate in the drill and ensure they know the appropriate people to contact in the Pennsylvania National Guard in the event of an Army aviation-related emergency.
The 28th ECAB hopes to expand this training in the future and include first responders from other communities and cities, citing the value of the training for their aviators as well as civilian first responders.
"Safety is at the forefront of our minds in everything we do. This training ensures that if we do get into an accident that we would be in good hands," said Watkins. "You cannot put a price on that."