JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - If a natural disaster hits, the Washington National Guard aviators will have to work with multiple agencies at a moment's notice.
"I really think it's a matter of when, not if, we end up working together," said Maj. Andy Collins with the Washington National Guard.
Collins is in a unique position as both a member of the Guard and the Seattle Fire Department. Recently, he teamed with both organizations as they trained moving personnel and assets from one place to another.
"So, the more training we can do together jointly, on the front end, the better the incident response is going to be when the time comes," Collins said.
The Seattle Fire Department would be invaluable during a natural disaster with hazardous material technicians, heavy equipment capabilities and marine firefighting.
"We're practicing the movement of personnel using National Guard air assets, particularly the Black Hawk helicopter," said Lt. Frank Brennan, Seattle Fire Department Rescue Company.
"Sometimes there's geographic obstacles we have to overcome, or in the interest of speed of transportation. We're moving those resources from inside the city to wherever they might be needed in the state."
One of the Washington National Guard's state missions is to assist with domestic operations. The formal relationship with the Seattle Fire Department is to work together on a quarterly basis, and this exercise meets that requirement.
"This is a great opportunity for our members," Collins said. "Seattle Fire is not the only department around but we are the largest department and we have a regional presences. This training allows us to practice with a unit that may give us a ride somewhere. Or that we may end up finding on a large incident. It's getting to train together, build proficiency and work out the bugs before disaster strikes."
Some of the 50 firefighters at the training had worked with Guard members before, during the Oso (SR 530) landslide.
"Our team deployed to Oso and we worked with the National Guard on their aircraft to set up LZs (landing zones) for extraction of human remains. That was the main mission of my team, but we couldn't get vehicles into the area so it was nice to have the helicopters help with that," said Lt. Kevin Dean, Seattle Fire Department Station 25.
The general sentiment of the Seattle firefighters in attendance was how the partnership with the Washington National Guard helps the state leverage its inter-agency relationships and respond to any disaster throughout the state.